Political fight in Georgia suburbs as McBath jumps districts

Nov 22, 2021, 10:56 PM | Updated: Nov 23, 2021, 1:21 pm
FILE - Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., speaks to supporters of Joe Biden as they wait for former President...

FILE - Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., speaks to supporters of Joe Biden as they wait for former President Barack Obama to arrive and speak at a rally Nov. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia lawmakers are scheduled to begin a special session called by Gov. Brian Kemp to redistrict Georgia's congressional delegation, state Senate and state House. The headline-grabbing issue for lawmakers will be whether Republicans target suburban Democrats McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, who have gained seats in recent years. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath isn’t going away, even as Republicans try to draw district lines to pry back a slice of the American suburbs from congressional Democrats.

McBath, a Democrat who in 2018 wrested away Newt Gingrich’s old suburban Atlanta U.S. House district from the GOP, is a torchbearer for the Democratic insurgency into once-prime Republican territory. Georgia’s GOP-controlled General Assembly responded by drawing a much more Republican 6th Congressional District for McBath, a former flight attendant who rose to prominence as a gun control activist after her son was fatally shot at a Florida gas station in a dispute over loud music.

But even as the state House pushed through the new plan on a mostly party-line vote, McBath announced Monday that she was jumping to a different suburban Atlanta district, this one drawn to heavily favor Democrats. She’s telling supporters that her mission is too important to step aside.

“I refuse to stand down. We must fight Republicans every step of the way, and now is not the time to lose a mother on a mission in Congress,” McBath said in a statement. “I made a promise to Jordan after he died. I promised that I would do everything in my power to prevent the tragedy that happened to my family from reaching any other.”

One complication: Georgia’s 7th Congressional District already has a Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux. She narrowly won the district in 2020, another example of a Democrat ending years of Republican control amid a diversifying population and suburban disaffection from a GOP dominated by Donald Trump.

Georgia’s remap will be finalized once Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs it. Democrats promise lawsuits, saying the lines violate federal law by discriminating against minority voters.

The net result is what Republicans are looking for — Democrats minus one, drawing nine strong GOP districts among Georgia’s 14 U.S. House seats, up from the current eight seats Republicans hold.

“What does Lucy McBath really have to offer?” 6th District Republican Party Chairman Nathan Porter asked. “What has she done for the district other than vote along Democratic Party lines?”

But for Jen Cox, who fought for years to elect a Democrat in suburban Atlanta, watching McBath being pushed out the district is a “frustrating place to be.”

“She has such a compelling story and she has devoted her life to honoring the memory of her son who was killed,” said Cox, one of the co-founders of PaveItBlue, a Georgia group devoted to organizing women to elect Democrats.

The changes to McBath’s old district and her new one illustrate suburban shifts that have made Democrats competitive. Republicans drew the 6th District out of heavily Democratic DeKalb County and into strongly Republican territory farther north from Atlanta.

In contrast, Republicans are surrendering in the 7th District after Bourdeaux narrowly won it in 2020, drawing a securely blue district in suburban areas of Gwinnett and Fulton counties that have seen an influx of Latino, Asian and Black voters.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, who has written a book on redistricting, said Republicans retreated to a “defensible position” amid unfavorable demographic and political changes.

“I think the way they configured the 6th District, that tells me they realize the changes are going to continue,” Bullock said.

Democrats have a less charitable view.

“It’s gerrymandering the suburbs,” said Essence Johnson, a McBath supporter and former Democratic state legislative candidate who lives in Smyrna.

“They’re scared,” Johnson said of Republicans. “She’s won the seat twice. I think there’s a level of fear in the shift and the change. They’re fearful of losing that power.”

Neither McBath nor Bourdeaux lives in the new 7th District, although that’s not required for a member of Congress.

Bourdeaux noted that she has worked to root herself in sprawling Gwinnett County, which has nearly 1 million people.

“I am the Gwinnett representative in the race for a predominantly Gwinnett district,” she said in a statement. “The people of the 7th deserve a representative that understands and cares about their needs, and has a record of fighting for them in Washington”.

There may be other candidates. State Rep. Donna McLeod said Monday that she also intends to seek the Democratic nomination in the 7th.

One McBath advantage is her backing by Michael Bloomberg-affiliated Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group for which McBath once worked. Everytown groups spent more than $6.3 million to aid McBath’s campaigns in 2018 and 2020, records show.

“I can’t imagine Congress without her,” said Adrienne Penake, a 6th District resident and Georgia elections lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an Everytown-associated group. “I can’t imagine it without her voice being there. How that plays out, I have no idea.”

Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Political fight in Georgia suburbs as McBath jumps districts