With just under a year to go until the 2020 election, Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which includes the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, has both Republicans and Democrats eager to put a new candidate in the seat.
After Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican who has held the seat since 2011, announced earlier this year that he would not be running for reelection, Republican and Democratic candidates have come out of the woodwork, with both parties vying for the seat as suburbs have become a big battleground in Georgia and across the country.
But before the two parties face off, candidates will have to make it through their respective primaries, which will be held on Tuesday, May, 19.
While the primaries are more than six months away, officials with the local parties said their candidates are doing a lot to earn the votes of Forsyth County residents.
“We see that the Republican candidates are spending a lot of time in Forsyth County, meeting the voters and the citizens in the 7th,” said Patrick Bell, chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party. “I’ve seen them at everything from Republican Party meetings to Republican events and lots and lots of community events.”
Similarly, Melissa Clink, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said after a close race in 2018, which saw Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux lose to Woodall by around 400 votes after more than 280,000 ballots were cast, Democrats are looking to win it all next year and candidates have been spending a lot of time in the county.
“Thats' the idea, right? When you’re running you want people to know who you are, what you stand for, what your issues are and what you’re willing to fight for,” Clink said. “To do that, you have to go to pretty much every community event you can get your hands on.”
In the 2018 race between Woodall and Bourdeaux, Woodall won Forsyth by a margin of about 68% of the vote to 32%. Bourdeaux won Gwinnett, 55% to 45%, the first time in Woodall’s term he did not win both counties or earn more than 60% of the total vote.
Democrats are hoping to improve on those margins within Forsyth.
“They have all been well-aware and are informed that Forsyth County is not one to ignore or forget or not spend resources in getting their name out there and their stance on the issues because we know Carolyn Bourdeaux last time around was able to beat David Kim in the primaries because of Forsyth County,” Clink said.
For Bell, he knows how important holding onto the seat is for Republicans and said the party knows “the Democrats have put a target on our backs.”
“Every day I get contacted from people that [say] ‘Where can I volunteer, where can I help, where can I sign up, where’s your next meeting, where can I meet the candidates?’” Bell said, “so people are definitely paying attention, and I think we’ll see a huge swell of grassroots, just everyday voters, I think they’re fed up with what’s going on in D.C. and are not going to allow the 7th to be taken. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to be flipped.”
Candidates from each party had thoughts about how important Forsyth would be in 2020.
Dr. Rich McCormick, a physician vying to be the Republican candidate, said conservatives have been increasing their presence in the county and he personally has spent a lot of time campaigning here.
“Forsyth remains a solid Republican County as Gov. [Brian] Kemp kept pace with President Trump, and Republicans added 7,000 more voters than the Democrats did over the previous midterm elections,” McCormick said. “We cannot rest on our laurels, however. And my campaign has been aggressive in reaching out to Forsyth voters. We just held our grassroots kickoff here, with more than 120 people attending. This early energy will translate into an unprecedented ground game to mobilize and activate Forsyth’s Republicans to get to the polls in record numbers in 2020.”
McCormick is one several Republican contenders that includes longtime state Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich, former Atlanta Falcons player Joe Profit, Air Force veteran Ben Bullock, businessman Mark Gonsalves, co-founder of the Conservative Diversity Alliance Jacqueline Tseng, former education executive Lerah Lee and former college professor Lisa Noel Babbage.
District 99 state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, a Democrat running for the seat, said she has been meeting with Forsyth voters at a number of gatherings and events and felt that the county’s growth in recent decades was a benefit to Democrats.
“Today’s Forsyth residents have a vision for the country and interests in common with the Democratic party: supporting public schools and small businesses, maintaining a vibrant middle class, and protecting healthcare access; in addition to, upholding our principles of freedom, justice, and equality, and a love for our state and country,” Romero said. “The 2018 election showed this trend. We just have to work hard to continue this shift, so it takes its full form on the 2020 election and we win the 7th Congressional District that we should have been flipped last election cycle.”
The Democrats also have a packed field, with Bourdeaux running again in 2020, along with other Democratic hopefuls in Romero, activist Nabilah Islam, former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, District 48 state Sen. Zahra Karinshak and Rashid Malik, who ran for the seat in 2016.
Though the race has been a big focus for both parties, even at the state and national levels, it is far from the only contentious race on the ballot, which will include two Senate seat contests.
One thing Clink and Bell both agreed on was they didn’t think other races would diminish the importance of District 7.
“I still think it’s a big one,” Bell said. “I think that people are still working hard, be it the candidates, their volunteers or their staff. I think perhaps the initial splash into the media has perhaps waned a little bit, but I think they’re working harder than ever.”
Clink said Democrats outside of Forsyth had an eye on the seat, which she said was evident by a recent Democratic Party of Georgia committee meeting at South Forsyth High School, a first in the county.
“They know how close we were to flipping the 7th, and they know that we will flip the 7th this time around,” she said. “I’m seeing the support come from around the state and nationally as well. Our candidates are doing pretty well fundraising-wise, so that usually means that people have confidence and faith when they put their money where their mouth is.”