By Hastings Wyman –
This November, Georgia Democrats are seeking to motivate the Blue Wave that swept their party to victory last year in Virginia’s gubernatorial and state House of Delegates contests, Alabama’s US Senate election, as well as other elections where, even if they fell short of victory, they out-performed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing.
Two of these races will be in the Atlanta area, in the 6th District, where freshman US Rep. Karen Handel (R) will be seeking a full term, and in the 7th, held by four-term US Rep. Rob Woodall (R).
Despite Democratic ambitions, one GOPer is not overly worried. “I don’t see any storm clouds on the horizon,” says former GOP state chairman “Chuck” Clay, now an attorney with Nelson, Mullins. He notes that there may be an underlying Trump problem, but “I don’t think it’s there as yet.” However, Republican consultant Brian Robinson told WXIA-TV’s Doug Richards, “[W]hat concerns me is the energy I’m seeing amongst the Democratic base.”
Nevertheless, says Clay, “I don’t see any serious problem at this point” for Handel or Woodall. “Both have tried to bridge gaps where they can, though both are conservative.” He adds that the 6th and 7th “are two of the strongest Republican districts in the state.”
For now, the governor’s race is taking most of the oxygen out of the room. For the Democratic congressional candidates, the Democratic Primary outcome may be influenced by voters’ choices for governor, and whether they choose to vote in the Democratic or Republican Primary. Moreover, in the General Election, if there is a popular
Republican heading the ticket for governor and an unpopular Democrat, it should help the GOP’s congressional incumbents.
The 6th District
Karen Handel (R), a former secretary of state who was elected to Congress last year to take US Rep. Tom Price’s (R) place, will be seeking reelection to a full term in November. At the end of 2017, Handel (R) had $573,000 cash on hand. Two Democrats who had raised significant funds were Bobby Kaple and Kevin Abel. Additional Democratic candidates, who entered the race too late to file with the FEC last year, are Lucy McBath and Steven Knight Griffin.
The 6th is the wealthiest district in the state and is home to many non-Georgians who have moved here. It has the largest share of Catholic and Jewish voters in the state. It is also somewhat more moderate; for example, it voted for Rubio over Trump in the 2016 primary.
Trump won the 6th District narrowly in 2016, 48% to 47%. In last year’s special election, Handel defeated Jon Ossoff (D) by 52% to 48%. Although there were eleven Republican candidates in the “jungle” primary, “The Republicans closed ranks in the runoff,” notes Clay. Says one longtime observer of Peach State politics, “Handel is pretty much expected to win,” though the energy on the Democratic side would belie this.
The Democrats have eleven candidates competing in the May 22 primary for the right to oppose Handel in November. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff must be held between the top two.
Four of the more active Democratic candidates are Abel, Griffin, Kaple and McBath.
Kevin Abel and his family emigrated to the United States from South Africa when he was 14. He was valedictorian of his high school class in Dallas, Texas, then studied electrical engineering, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1987. He moved to Atlanta, where he met his wife, Cindy. In 1994, the Abel’s started their own technology consulting firm, which has become a recognized business in the region. Abel has also made significant contributions to the civic life of Atlanta, supporting financially the Carter Center, the Georgia chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and other endeavors. He also served on the board of directors of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and chaired the Small Business Council. Abel has the strongest infrastructure in the district among the Democratic candidates, says one party insider. As of December 31, 2017, Abel had $154,000 cash-on-hand.
Steven Knight Griffin has lived in the 6th District for more than 20 years. He has worked as a policy expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as a management consultant. On his website, Griffin says, “I remember living through very real and regularly recurring threats of foreclosure and eviction from our family home, and periodically wondered where we’d find the money to eat and keep the lights on… so I strive to carry the torch for those who feel society has forgotten or abandoned them.”
Bobby Kaple quit his job as the morning and noon news anchor at WGCL-TV, a CBS affiliate, last year to seek the Democratic nomination to oppose the Republican Handel. Kaple and his wife Rebecca live in Milton, Georgia, and are the parents of twins. The twins were born prematurely; they weighed four pounds each and spent two weeks in a neo-natal care unit. This experience led to Kaple’s interest in healthcare issues. Despite his novice as a politician, Kaple’s candidacy has accrued an impressive array of endorsements from leading area Democrats: Andrew Young, a former mayor, congressman and ambassador; former US Sen. Max Cleland; former US Rep. Buddy Barden; Democratic leaders in the Georgia state Senate; and US Rep. Cedric Richmond (LA), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. With $232,000 cash on hand, Kaple had more in his war chest than any of the other Democratic candidates as of Dec. 31, 2017; however, when 1st Quarter financial reports are made public, the ranking could change.
Lucy McBath is an African American whose son was murdered right after Trayvon Martin in Florida by someone at a gas station who objected to his music. The assailant is now in prison serving a life sentence. A former Delta Airlines employee, she is now the national spokesperson for “Everytown for Gun Safety,” founded by ex-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She has testified before Congress and lobbies on gun issues. She comes from a family active in the civil rights movement. She has also been active in Cobb County, her home, and has received a number of awards for her work. In 2016, she served as a Hillary Clinton campaign surrogate. She has a degree in political science from Virginia State University. To the extent that recent events have brought gun violence to the fore, “She could take on Handel on those issues,” says an Atlanta-based politico.
The 7th District
Seven Democrats are running for the nomination to challenge four-term US Rep. Rob Woodall (R), despite the district’s Republican voting history. In 2016, Trump carried the district 51% to 45%. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has listed the 7th District as one of 20 Republican-held districts across the nation that it is targeting to flip from Red to Blue. At the December 31, 2017 deadline, Woodall had $406,000 cash-on-hand.
Three Democratic candidates are getting the most attention.
Carolyn Bordeaux, a former professor at Georgia State University, is an early favorite for the Democratic nomination. She has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Public Administration. She cites the difficulties her parents experienced as they aged: “Their health care costs became so burdensome they couldn’t afford their medications… This problem is not at all unique to my family.” She has the support of Democratic loyalists and women’s groups; US Rep. Hank Johnson (D), whose district is adjacent to the 7th, has endorsed Bordeaux. With $138,000 in her war chest by year’s end, she was not the top money raiser, but that may change when the 1st Quarter numbers are available.
David Kim is the son of Korean immigrants. He views his success as an example of the American Dream. He went to Harvard, where he studied economics, and where he founded C2 Education in his dorm room. The company has grown to include 180 centers and thousands of employees. Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc magazines have recognized his work. Kim has served on the boards of several education organizations. In 2005, Kim moved the headquarters of C2 Education to Duluth, Georgia, where he met his wife, MJ. Kim is stressing healthcare and the failure of Woodall to build consensus among the districts’ residents. At year’s end, Kim had $222,000 on hand.
Ethan Pham was born in South Vietnam, where his father served in the army fighting the communist forces and was put in a “re-education” camp after the war. In 1994, when Ethan was 11 years old, the family moved to the United States. His parents took menial jobs and encouraged their children to be educated. Pham worked his way through college waiting tables. In 2009, when the market crashed, his parents
lost their jobs in a carpet factory, so Ethan Pham borrowed money to help them buy a small chicken farm. He and his parents learned how to raise chickens and the venture was successful. Pham got a law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Later he worked as a city attorney, where he met his wife Jenny, also a lawyer. Ethan has been active in civic affairs, serving on the Gwinnett County Transit Advisory Board and the Gwinnett County Police Foundation board. At the end of last year, Pham had $166,000 cash-on-hand.
To the extent that voters are more inclined to vote for candidates of their own ethnic persuasion, there are enough Asians in the 7th District to give a candidate a significant vote; the district is 14% Asian, 46% white, 21% black, and 19% Hispanic. However, with two Asian contenders – Kim is Korean, Pham Vietnamese – the district’s Asian electorate is likely to be divided.
If the 6th and 7th Districts remain true to their voting histories, Republican US Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall will be reelected this fall. But these are politically tumultuous times, well-nigh unpredictable. Will the Blue Wave reach Georgia? Stay tuned.