The dramatic gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp has dominated politics in Georgia this year. But a sequel to last year’s marquee contest in the 6th Congressional District is also starting to get noticed.
Over the weekend, the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight moved the district, in which Democrats lost in a heartbreaking special election last year, from “leans Republican” to “toss-up.” RealClearPolitics also rates the race between Rep. Karen Handel (R), who is running for reelection to a full term, and first-time candidate Lucy McBath (D) as a toss-up.
Democrats went all in last year for Jon Ossoff, who raised $23 million and energized progressives around the country in an effort to send a message to newly installed President Trump by taking a seat that had been held by the GOP since 1979. The seat had been held for 12 years by Rep. Tom Price, who stepped down to become secretary of health and human services. He left the post after several months amid criticism of his frequent use of charter flights at taxpayers expense.
But when the 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide came up just short of an outright win in the April special election and lost to Handel by 4 percentage points in a runoff, political observers concluded the suburban Atlanta district was out of reach for Democrats.
Then McBath, a national anti-gun violence advocate, jumped into the race at the last minute, citing February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 dead, most of them students. In 2012, McBath’s 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, had been fatally shot by a 49-year-old man who had argued with the teen and his friends over loud music coming from their car.
She surprised pundits by coming in first in a four-way field in May and by winning a runoff in July. Now she’s hoping to beat the odds Tuesday in a showdown with Handel. McBath is encouraged by the ratings upgrades by the political websites.
“My race is a toss-up because every single person in this district, regardless of political belief or party — wants our kids to be safe at school,” she said. “People in GA06 [Georgia’s 6th District] want their family members with preexisting conditions to have quality and affordable health care. I am the only candidate in this race who will fight for those values.”
Handel, according to her campaign spokesman, feels confident she will be reelected.
“We did this just last year, when we faced even more outside money and outside influence,” said Charlie Harper. “Karen is very well known throughout this district, she has been a part of this district, serving it for 25 years. People know her. That showed in the result in June of 2017, and it will show in the result tomorrow.”
McBath, 58, has emphasized gun control and vowed to protect the Affordable Care Act, noting that she has twice been diagnosed with breast cancer and understands how important it is to have access to health insurance. She has criticized Handel as being too cozy with the National Rifle Association and too loyal to Trump’s agenda, including the GOP tax cuts, which she says don’t benefit the middle-class families in the district.
“People are concerned about the gun culture, concerned about their children sitting in classrooms and the same thing that happened in Parkland happening to their children here,” said McBath, who tells audiences that Handel is beholden to “the NRA lobby.”
Handel, 56, says that the tax cuts have put an average $4,400 a year back into the hands of the district’s taxpayers. Harper also said Handel understands the importance of protecting people with preexisting conditions because she has a sister who was born without an esophagus. He said Handel was not in Congress during the battle of repealing the ACA, but she supports a bill that would protect those with preexisting conditions from being denied coverage or having to pay higher premiums.
As for the gun issue, Harper criticized McBath for having gotten $4 million from Everytown for Gun Safety, for which she was a national spokeswoman before taking a leave to run for Congress. He said that “less than one-third of 1 percent” of Handel’s support had come from the NRA. He said McBath was in no position “to claim someone else is being bought and paid for by outside groups.”
In August, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included the district in its “Red to Blue” program, providing fundraising and other resources for McBath. Last month, the National Republican Congressional Committee kicked in money to help Handel with campaign advertising.
McBath said Ossoff’s campaign last year had “laid a phenomenal foundation” for her to build on. He appeared with her a few weeks ago to rally canvassers along with former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
Ossoff said in a brief interview that he thinks Abrams’s campaign, which has added tens of thousands of progressive voters and generated excitement across Georgia, will help McBath in her race. He added: “If I can look back on my effort last year and say that I’ve helped lay some groundwork for a candidate as extraordinary as Lucy McBath to be elected to Congress, then I’ll be all the prouder of that effort last year.”
Democrats also are hoping for an upset in adjacent 7th Congressional District. That race pits Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux against Republican Rep. Rob Woodall in a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In addition to Georgia’s 6th District, Cook also updated ratings for nine other House races:
AZ-01 [Arizona’s 1st District]: Rep. Tom O’Halleran — Likely D to Lean D
CA-49 [California’s 49th District]: OPEN — Lean D to Likely D
FL-25 [Florida’s 25th District]: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) — Likely R to Lean R
MI-06: [Michigan’s 6th District]: Rep. Fred Upton (R) — Likely R to Lean R
PA-10: [Pennsylvania’s 10th District]: Rep. Scott Perry (R) — Lean R to Toss Up
TX-06 [Texas’s 6th District]: OPEN — Solid R to Likely R
TX-10 [Texas’s 10th District]: Rep. Michael McCaul — Solid R to Likely R
WA-08 [Washington state’s 8th District]: OPEN (R) — Toss Up to Lean D
WV-02 [West Virginia’s 2nd District]: Rep. Alex Mooney — Solid R to Likely R