It’s a Democratic showdown only a Republican could love. 6th Congressional District Rep. Lucy McBath and 7th Congressional District Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux are still colleagues in the U.S. House and both supporters of President Joe Biden’s agenda. But when the GOP-led state legislature redrew McBath’s district at the end of last year to make it a strongly red district, McBath jumped into the race for nearby 7th instead, forcing Bourdeaux into a primary fight. Bourdeaux isn’t thrilled—to say the least—that another popular Democrat is targeting her seat, but she was game enough to take swipes at McBath during Sunday’s Democratic primary debate at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio in Midtown, hosted by the Atlanta Press Club. The frontrunners were joined by fellow contender Donna McLeod, a state representative, who’s the only one of the three—as McLeod noted several times—with an address inside the new district lines.
Though it was once a conservative stronghold, the 7th is now safely Democratic: during redistricting last year, the GOP-led state legislature crowded Gwinnett County Democrats into the district, a gerrymandering tactic known as packing. At the same time, they redrew the hotly contested 6th District, which Lucy McBath flipped in 2018, drawing in large swaths of conservative Forsyth County that had previously been in the 7th. Bourdeaux currently represents most of the voters in the newly drawn 7th, but a small swath of McBath’s current 6th district is included in the new lines.
Predictably, during Sunday’s debate, Bourdeaux lambasted McBath for jumping ship, effectively “handing your seat to Republicans like (Rich) McCormick,” the staunch pro-life conservative that Bordeaux defeated in 2018 who is now a frontrunner in the 6th District GOP primary. Rather than defending her move outright, McBath focused on the message that swept her into office back in 2018: “I’m just a mom on a mission,” she said. “People know me; they know they can trust me.” Meanwhile, McLeod touted her decades of service registering thousands of Gwinnett voters, and blasted both of her rivals for “playing musical chairs” with the district. “When the music stops,” she said, “You don’t just start looking for another seat.” (Both of the other candidates live nearby, and Georgia law doesn’t require U.S. House reps to live in the district they represent).
Right now, McBath is the candidate to beat: with a larger national profile, she has a fundraising edge over Bourdeaux of nearly $1 million, and polling from February showed a modest lead amongst likely voters. But both frontrunners have secured some high-profile endorsements, with Bourdeaux endorsed by former Senator Sam Nunn and former Ambassador Andrew Young, and McBath endorsed by the former chairs of the Gwinnett school board and the county commission. McBath beat out her rival for a coveted endorsement from Everytown for Gun Safety; the advocacy organization endorsed both reps when they ran in separate districts, but in January threw its weight behind McBath, praising her “unflinching leadership.” (Gun safety and reform has always been McBath’s key platform; her son was a victim of gun violence in 2012, and his death inspired her political career.)
While both candidates are thoroughgoing Democrats, McBath is further to the left than Bourdeaux, whose centrist stance has alienated some progressives. Last year, critics slammed Bourdeaux for pushing, with other centrists, to uncouple Biden’s infrastructure bill from the rest of the Build Back Better plan, sparking circulation of the hashtag #ComeOnCarolyn. Bourdeaux’s centrism could hurt her chances in a district that, post-redistricting, has turned even more blue.
But at the debate, Bourdeaux insisted she’s been a loyal public servant to 7th District voters, highlighting her work in Congress on behalf of voting rights, affordable housing, and her collaboration with Senator Raphael Warnock to expand Medicaid in Georgia. In a last dig at McBath’s decision to switch races, she added, “if the shoe had been on the other foot in redistricting, I would not have abandoned you.”
McBath mostly avoided trading barbs with her primary rival, opting instead to focus on her frontrunner status. But she did at one point venture an interesting criticism of Bourdeaux’s personal voting record, citing two instances where Bourdeaux, a Democrat, voted in the Republican primary instead of her own party’s. It fell flat as a line of attack—Bourdeaux explained that in both instances, she did so merely to “beat back the crazy”—but it highlighted a curious quirk of the state’s primary process. Georgia is one of 15 states with open primaries, where voters can choose the partisan primary in which they’ll cast their vote. Georgians can only cast a ballot in one party’s primary, but it allows voters to cross party lines, which they sometimes do strategically, voting across the aisle for someone they think their party’s candidate could likely beat in a general election.
The primary election is May 24, 2022; early voting began today. The Democratic victor will face the winner of the Republican primary in November’s general election. Several Republicans are currently jostling for that nomination: Michael Corbin, Mark Gonsalves, Lisa McCoy, Y.G. Nyghtstorm, and Mary West.