McBath switches to Safe Dem district, sets up clash with Bourdeaux
The two-term Democrat is switching to a new Gwinnett-based district following a redistricting process that left her with a solidly Republican seat
The game of redistricting musical chairs continues.
Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta) announced on Monday that she will run for re-election in friendlier territory after her district became significantly more Republican during the redistricting process, setting the stage for a primary battle with a fellow Democratic congresswoman.
McBath says she plans to run in the 7th congressional district, currently held by Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee). The district now includes most of Gwinnett County — a diverse suburban county northeast of Atlanta where Democrats have made huge gains in recent elections.
The switch comes after Republican state legislators transformed McBath’s 6th district, currently based in the north Atlanta suburbs, into solidly Republican district. The district lost its share of DeKalb County in exchange for more conservative counties in North Georgia.
Republicans made somewhat of a sacrifice in the 7th district, which was the only competitive Republican-held district to change parties in 2020. Mapmakers redrew the district to become a safely Democratic, majority-minority district.
Currently, the 6th district stretches across the northern end of I-285, from Cobb County to DeKalb County. The neighboring 7th includes most of Gwinnett and Forsyth.
During the 2011 redistricting session, both districts were drawn to be reliably Republican by pairing Democratic voters with suburban white voters, who at the time were essential to the GOP coalition. But some Republicans privately worried that a population boom in the Atlanta suburbs might lead to Democratic victories later in the decade — and sure enough, they were correct.
In their current configurations, Mitt Romney carried both the 6th and the 7th districts by more than 20 percentage points each in the 2012 presidential election. Four years later, however, Republican nominee Donald Trump won both districts by single-digit margins, a significant underperformance that highlighted his nationwide weakness in suburban districts.
In 2020, now-President Joe Biden won both districts by healthy margins, winning the 6th by 11 points and the 7th by 6. Impressive results like these would have been unimaginable for any Democrat just a few years ago.
During this year’s redistricting session, Republican state legislators attempted slow the recent Democratic gains in the suburbs by making one of the districts more secure for Democrats while making the other a conservative stronghold. It’s a configuration that is likely to increase GOP dominance in the 14-member congressional delegation.
On the new congressional plan, the 6th district sheds its portion of DeKalb County, where the district’s most Democratic precincts are located. In exchange, the district stretches northward to wrest some exurban and rural counties in north Georgia, such as Cherokee, Forsyth and Dawson. The new 6th district would have supported former President Trump by 15 percentage points — a complete mirror image of the current 6th, which supported President Biden by 11 points.
The 7th district, meanwhile, becomes far more Democratic friendly than its predecessor. The district is now based almost entirely within Gwinnett County, which has been seen as ground zero of the recent Democratic gains in Georgia. It also includes Johns Creek, a community in North Fulton County. With whites making up less than a third of the district’s population, the new 7th is the most ethnically diverse district in the state. It would have supported the President by an astonishing 25 percentage points, more than four times his margin in the current 7th.
The looming showdown
Shortly after the new map cleared the Georgia House on Monday, McBath announced that she would run for re-election in the new 7th district. Bourdeaux also plans to run for re-election here.
McBath put out a statement that said she will continue to do everything in her power “to keep what happened to our family from happening to others,” referring to the shooting death of her son at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012. Bourdeaux did not seem phased by McBath’s entrance, saying in a statement on Monday that she looks forward to continuing to serve the people of the 7th.
As seen above, Bourdeaux starts off with a clear geographic advantage. Her current district accounts for about 57% of the new 7th, compared to just 12% for McBath. But neither Democrat is a resident of the new district: McBath’s Marietta home is located about 20 miles outside of the district, and Bourdeaux’s home in Suwanee is right across the Chattahoochee River.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there is no residency requirement for members of Congress. McBath, a retired Delta flight attendant, has been a resident of Cobb County since 2008. Bourdeaux, a former Georgia State University professor, moved from Atlanta to Gwinnett County shortly before her first run for Congress in 2018.
Both will have to introduce themselves to a large swath of new voters: about a third of the new district will be new territory for both McBath and Bourdeaux. One area where McBath might have the upper hand: the district’s diversity. Several neighborhoods in the 7th district are predominantly African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American. Being an African-American Congresswoman, McBath will likely do a better job introducing herself to these voters than Bourdaux, a white Blue Dog.
That’s not to say that Bourdeaux doesn’t have any advantages of her own. Many voters in Gwinnett County have seen Bourdeaux’s name on their ballot five times since 2018, so she may start off with more local name recognition than McBath, who has never appeared on a ballot in Gwinnett before.
Neither McBath or Bourdeaux mentioned one another by name on Monday, but the two appeared to take some not-so-subtle shots at each other. McBath told the AJC that she has “never wavered on President Biden’s agenda.” alluding to Bourdeaux’s opposition to some parts of the President’s legislative priorities. Bourdeaux attempted to underscore her close ties to the community. “I am the Gwinnett representative in the race for a predominantly Gwinnett district,” she said, appearing to cast McBath as a carpetbagger.
The race between the two Democratic rising stars will be a high-dollar contest that will give us an idea of how Georgia Democrats plan to move forward following their statewide victories in the 2020 elections. Will Democrats in the 7th opt for more diverse representation in an increasingly diverse state, or will they seek to move to the center ahead of what is likely to be a tough election year for the party?
The winner of the primary should have little trouble winning the seat in the general election, so the winner could essentially hold the seat for as long as they want to. This could give them the opportunity to rise in House leadership or even position themselves to run for a statewide office down the line.
This is a high-stakes primary that is sure to draw a lot of national attention.