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Citing Parkland shooting, anti-gun-violence activist is running for Congress in Georgia

Lucia McBath, second from left, and fellow members of Mothers of the Movement address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on in 2016. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Lucia “Lucy” McBath, who has crusaded against gun violence since her 16-year-old son was shot to death by a man who complained to a car full of teenagers that their music was too loud, is running for Congress in Georgia. She has told supporters that she has been inspired by the students who are demanding action after a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school killed 17 students and teachers.

Initially a candidate for a state House seat, McBath told supporters last week that she had instead decided to run for Congress.

If she wins the Democratic primary for the 6th District, the contest will probably draw widespread attention for another reason — it is the same congressional district that Democrats came close to winning in a special election last year that was seen as a test of President Trump’s popularity. Rep. Karen Handel, who won the seat in June in a hard-fought contest against Democrat Jon Ossoff, is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

McBath, 57, who lives in Cobb County, said in a letter to supporters last week that she had decided her voice was needed in Washington and she was dropping out of the her state House race.

“In the last few weeks since the tragedy in Parkland, we’ve all witnessed the reaction from Washington,” she wrote. “It’s been much of the same response after every other mass shooting. ‘It’s not time to have the debate.’ ‘Let’s wait and see.’ ‘It isn’t the time to act.’ So, with much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to listen to the voters I met and to those brave students from Parkland and run for Congress in my home district of Georgia’s 6th . . . so that I may humbly offer my voice in this debate for the safety, security and the hope of prosperity for my neighbors in Georgia and across the country.”

McBath campaigned extensively for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election as part of Mothers of the Movement, a group of women whose children were killed in violent confrontations with civilians or police officers. Her son, Jordan Davis, was killed in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012 by a man who argued with Davis and other teenagers that the music coming from their car was too loud. The man, Michael Dunn, fired 10 shots into the vehicle, fatally wounding Davis. After being acquitted in his first trial, Dunn was found guilty of first-degree murder in a second trial and sentenced to life in prison.

Democrats see a wave of enthusiasm but still face an identity crisis

Although the 6th District seat has been held by Republicans for nearly 40 years, Democrats came close to capturing it in the special election last year to replace former congressman Tom Price, who gave up the seat to serve as Trump’s secretary of health and human services. Price served six months before resigning after he drew criticism for taking taxpayer-funded charter flights for his travel.

Ossoff, a former congressional aide running in his first campaign, fell two percentage points shy of topping 50 percent to win the seat in the first round of voting. Handel, a former secretary of state who had lost bids for governor and U.S. Senate, pulled 19 percent of the vote in a crowded field of Republicans in the first round. In the runoff, she topped Ossoff 51.8 percent to 48.2 percent.

The close race was interpreted by some as a sign that the 6th is more competitive than it has been in the past. Although Price, who had held the seat for 10 years, won reelection in 2016 by more than 20 percentage points, Trump won the district by 1.5 percentage points. The district includes several suburban communities north of Atlanta.

Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, said the results reflected a stronger-than-usual effort on the part of Democrats to turn out their voters, as well as demographic changes over the years.

“That district is more competitive than people thought it was going into this particular race,” Gillespie said. Given the enthusiasm Democratic voters have shown in recent months statewide and in congressional races in Virginia, New Jersey, Alabama and Pennsylvania, she expects a similarly tough battle for the seat in the general election.

McBath joins hundreds of women, including at least 140 women of color, who are likely to run for Congress. In Georgia’s 6th district, three other candidates also are seeking the Democratic nomination: Bobby Kaple, a former television personality; Kevin Abel, a businessman; and Steven Knight Griffin, a management consultant. The congressional primaries will be held May 22.