The 2020 election is already heating up nationwide, including in Forsyth County, where the race for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which makes up the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, has become a target for both Republicans, who currently hold the seat and want to continue to do so, and Democratic challengers seeking to continue the trend of making strides in metro Atlanta counties.
In 2018, the race came down to the wire as Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican who has held the seat since 2011, beat out Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes out of 280,411 cast.
The race has received even more attention with the announcement that Woodall would not seek re-election in 2020, and while a number of candidates from both parties have announced they plan to run for the seat, so far there is one commonality: none are from Forsyth County.
Patrick Bell, chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, said that being a year away from the primary next May, there was still time for candidates to announce they were running but time was running out. With Woodall holding the office for the last eight years, potential candidates likely didn’t want to run against an incumbent.
“I think we’re still early in the season, if you will,” he said. “I’ve talked to people that are interested in running for the District that are Forsyth County people. I think as time goes on and when the time is right, we will see some Forsyth County candidates.”
On the other side, Melissa Clink, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said she is excited about the candidates that have announced they would run but said there are a few reasons more of the party’s candidates are coming from Gwinnett.
“The only reason that I think that we really see a concentration in Gwinnett is basically the population versus the population of Forsyth County as far as it being a much bigger area,” she said. “The other thing that is hard in Forsyth, which isn’t as difficult as Gwinnett – to be able to find people who want to step up to be candidates. It’s a very red county in Forsyth, so stepping out and being a Democratic candidate is a bigger deal in Forsyth County than it is in Gwinnett County.”
Both parties acknowledge the political reality: Forsyth is considered strongly Republican and Gwinnett went blue in the 2016 election.
“The reality is that our south Forsyth citizens are lumped in with a bunch of Democrats, so we have to work hard to offset the Democratic voters. So, we need to have a big showing in Forsyth and a good showing in Gwinnett,” Bell said. “I think Forsyth County Republicans and conservative voters understand that, and I think there’s no way they’re going to allow half of our county to be represented in Congress by a Democrat.”
Clink said the potential to flip the seat has brought out many candidates and she wanted to continue to bring candidates to the area to talk to local voters.
“We have some strong candidates,” she said. “The real hard part, for me, when we have such strong candidates running for the same position is it’s a shame we can’t spread them out more. We really need to make that groundwork so we can have candidates in every spot.”
One thing that both Bell and Clink agreed on is that even if candidates don’t live in Forsyth, they understand how important the county’s voters will be next year.
“They are definitely engaged up here,” Clink said. “I talk to either candidates themselves or maybe campaign managers weekly, so we just make sure that our relationship is strong so we can go out and get their message out to everyone. That’s really what it’s about: you can have the best candidate there ever was, but if people don’t know about them, they won’t matter.”
Of course, along with the 7th Congressional District, north Forsyth is part of Georgia’s 9th Congressional District along with the rest of northeast Georgia.
Asked whether having one seat heavily in Gwinnett and one heavily focused on the mountains was tough for Forsyth, Bell said, “it’s a definite reality.” He later added that, to his knowledge, a winner from Forsyth County would be the first county resident in Congress in at least recent history.
“I think it would be terribly exciting to have a Forsyth County resident, someone we all know and work with and live with, to represent us in the House of Representatives,” Bell said. “I think if we had a good candidate, we would see that excitement translate to the voters.”