Candidates spar over healthcare, inflation at 6th District Congressional debate, while Lucy McBath skips 7th District debate

The suburban districts are likely no longer the competitive swing districts they once were, but candidates in each are still trying to win over undecided voters

Atlanta Press Club Debates Georgia 6th Congressional District
Democrat Bob Christian (right) and Republican Rich McCormick debate on Sunday during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate.

Photograph © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire

Georgia’s midterms are around the corner, but plenty of voters are still mulling their choices. On Sunday, October 16, candidates for Georgia’s 6th and 7th Congressional Districts took the stage at debates hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, hoping to woo those undecided voters through policy, politicking, and memorable digs at their opponents.

In the 6th District debate, Republican Rich McCormick, an Marine veteran and ER doctor, took on Democrat Bob Christian, also a combat veteran and a small business owner. The two clashed over government’s role in healthcare, abortion, and President Joe Biden’s record.

In the 7th District debate, Republican Mark Gonsalves had the stage to himself, as Democrat Lucy McBath, who currently represents the 6th District next door, declined to participate. With McBath represented by an empty podium, Gonsalves, a first-generation American and business owner, used his 15 minutes of solo airtime to warn about rising inflation, call for a free-market approach to healthcare, and slam McBath for voting “100 percent with Biden and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi.”

The backstory: a redistricting political shuffle

Both the 6th and 7th—neighboring districts north of Atlanta—have attracted media frenzies in recent years. McBath wrestled the 6th District seat from decades of Republican control in 2018. She won reelection in 2020, beating Karen Handel, who held the seat before McBath by outflanking then-newcomer Jon Ossoff in a 2016 race that attracted national attention and unprecedented cash.

But redistricting changed the game: following the 2020 census, the GOP-led Georgia General Assembly drafted new electoral maps, and, thanks to the inclusion of Forsyth and Dawson Counties, the redrawn 6th District now safely favors Republicans. McBath called the move an attempt to draw her out of Congress and announced she would run in the neighboring 7th District instead, which—with borders that include far northeast Fulton County and most of southern and central Gwinnett County—had turned from a swing district into a safely Democratic one. In May, McBath defeated incumbent Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Democratic primary. She’s now favored to win the seat against Gonsalves.

McCormick, the Republican challenger in the 6th, ran against and lost to Bourdeaux in the 2020 7th District election. Similar to McBath, he also decided to run in the neighboring district and won the 6th’s crowded Republican primary in May. He’s now favored to win and has also outraised Democratic opponent Christian by hefty margins, pulling in over $600,000 in campaign contributions last quarter.

The 6th District Debate

As the District 6 candidates sparred Sunday over affordable healthcare, gun control measures, and abortion, their positions highlighted the rift that has long divided Republicans and Democrats: how much of a role should the government play in Americans’ daily lives?

Christian believes the government ought to do more to help struggling Americans. He has made access to healthcare a signature campaign issue, noting the epidemic of hospital shutdowns across Georgia and blaming Republican state lawmakers for choking the healthcare system of needed federal funds via Medicaid expansion. “The first thing I would do as United States Representative is provide…leverage to allow Georgians access to Medicaid,” he said.

Atlanta Press Club Debates Georgia 6th Congressional District
Democrat Bob Christian speaks during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate.

Photograph © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire

In response, McCormick blasted government intervention in the healthcare system and decried Medicaid expansion. “If you want to see one example of a government-controlled healthcare system, it’s called the VA,” McCormick said. “It also doesn’t work very well.” He called for empowering people to solve healthcare issues, though he did not provide a specific plan for healthcare reform. McCormick’s website states he would like to end Covid-19 mask and vaccine mandates and to “slash Federally-mandated Paperwork.”

Another high-profile issue for both candidates is abortion access. McCormick, who’s staked an unusual position as a pro-life physician, said in the debate that he supports Georgia’s existing ban on abortions after six weeks. But he was evasive about whether he’d support a federal abortion ban like the one South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced in September: in a press Q&A after the debate, McCormick said, “I prefer it be a state rights thing…but I am pro-life, and I will always vote for life.”

Atlanta Press Club Debates Georgia 6th Congressional District
Republican Rich McCormick speaks during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate.

Photograph © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire

Christian denounced Republican-led abortion restrictions and said if elected, he would vote to create a federal protection for the right to an abortion.

The two also clashed over federal spending, gun control, and police reform, where candidates stuck to their respective party lines. At one point, debate moderator Jim Burress asked McCormick about his criticism of “woke policies” in the U.S. military, such as teaching diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in military academies.

“The military isn’t about equity,” stated McCormick, a Marine veteran. “It’s a meritocracy.” Christian, who served for a decade with the U.S. Army, countered that teaching DEI is an important step forward for the military, noting the high rates of sexual abuse and PTSD among veterans, as well as the rise of white supremacy within military ranks.

In their closing statements, the two Congressional hopefuls neatly outlined the choice voters face between a Republican and Democratic worldview. McCormick cast the Biden Administration’s agenda as an overreach and “increasingly Marxist,” saying his election would mark a win for people over government. Christian declared that only one party was committed to serving the American people. “You can pick one party that is supporting women, minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community…that is the Democratic party,” he said.

The 7th District Debate

Atlanta Press Club Debates Georgia 7th Congressional District
Republican Mark Gonsalves speaks during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate.

Photograph © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire

Because McBath did not attend the 7th District debate, Republican candidate Gonsalves had only 15 minutes of airtime instead of the usual 30 allocated to each debate. But he wasted no time in reaching for his campaign’s best ammunition: the assertion that McBath is “district shopping” to stay in office.

“Where is Lucy?” Gonsalves asked at the start of the debate, gesturing to the empty podium. “She’s never represented a soul in Gwinnett County.” Gonsalves strategically invoked the bitter primary fight between McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux to make his point: “Earlier this year, you had Carolyn Bourdeaux on this same stage, talking about how [McBath]…came over to the 7th to keep her political career going.”

Gonsalves, who like McCormick has positioned himself as a true conservative fighting the Democrats’ “radical left agenda,” said that if elected, he would work to end inflation through increased domestic energy production, extending the Trump-era tax cuts for middle-class earners, and addressing the federal deficit.

Atlanta Press Club Debates Georgia 7th Congressional District
Republican Mark Gonsalves speaks during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate.

Photograph © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire

He lambasted McBath for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act, which he said burdened Americans with more taxation and spending, and claiming that infrastructure investment would result in building “bridges to nowhere.” (The White House has stated that $40 billion of the Act will go to much-needed repair of existing bridges.)

“Taxing and spending in the middle of an inflationary spiral is the wrong direction,” he said.

Gonsalves also called for reducing government involvement in healthcare, noting that he opposes Medicaid expansion. Instead, he stated, introducing “free-market principles to healthcare” would result in lower costs and greater transparency.

Despite McBath’s advantage as the Democrat in a blue district, Gonsalves urged voters not to count him out: “Polls don’t decide elections,” he said. “People do.”

Candidates to represent the 6th and 7th Districts in the U.S. Congress will face off for the midterm election on Tuesday, November 8. Early voting begins Monday, October 17.