For years, Forsyth County has been known statewide as a Republican stronghold with deep ties to the party, but local Democrats are making a particularly big push in 2020 to change that narrative.
During qualifying last week, Democratic candidates qualified to run for all seven seats of the Forsyth County Delegation to the Georgia General Assembly.
Melissa Clink, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Democratic Committee, said the party having candidates run was meant to spark conversations and give voters a choice they often don’t have.
“Competition is a good thing, especially when you’re talking about ideals and how to run the government,” Clink said. “One of the things I will say is the stars kind of aligned. None of these candidates are paper candidates, none of these candidates are candidates who did not want to run for office prior to running for office, so everything happened at the right time.”
Forsyth County’s delegation is made of incumbent state Sens. Greg Dolezal (District 27) and Steve Gooch (District 51) and state Reps. Kevin Tanner (District 9), Wes Cantrell (District 22), Sheri Gilligan (District 24), Todd Jones (District 25) and Marc Morris (District 26).
All incumbents except Tanner and Morris are running for re-election, and both Tanner and Morris’s open seats have Republican candidates, with Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald running for District 26 and six Republicans running for District 9.
For this year’s race, each Republican will face a Democratic challenge, with Brooke Griffiths running for District 27; June Krise running for District 51; Sharon Ravert Running for District 9; Charles Ravencraft and Bobbi Simpson for District 22; Natalie Bucsko for District 24; Christa Olenczak for District 25; and Jason Boskey for District 26.
Bucsko, who is campaigning for the seat representing the city of Cumming and west Forsyth, said when she first moved to the county in 2002, there were no Democratic candidates to vote for and she hoped the growth since then and changing demographics would mean more voters.
“I didn’t have a choice, I had one person for so many different seats,” she recalled. “A lot of people, they realize that and they don’t even go to the polls. They don’t see the point in going to the polls because there’s only one person to vote for, so what’s the point? There’s not even a contest.”
Clink said the candidates are working to help the campaigns of other Democrats, such as House candidates bringing up the Senate races during their campaign stops and vice versa, but that didn’t mean the candidates were all the same.
“We have moderates running, we have progressives running [and] a little bit of in-between,” she said. “It’s kind of a full spectrum of what Democratic candidates can offer. If nothing else, it will spark a lot of great conversation in the county to see how similar we are, how we differ and let others know that it’s OK to be a Democrat even in a red county like Forsyth.”
While all partisan elected officials in Forsyth County are Republicans, Democrats have been hopeful Forsyth would follow Cobb and Gwinnett counties and other suburban areas that went blue in the 2016 presidential election.
“We know especially the northern part [of the county] is still very conservative,” Clink said, “but we feel it could be the same thing that happened a few years ago with the southern part of the county as far as people not realizing how much that area has changed, so we’ve given somebody a good candidate on the ballot to be able to vote in opposition to what we’ve always known in Forsyth County.”
Democrats have also pointed to some recent success in the 2018 race for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which contains the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, when incumbent Republican Rob Woodall edged out challenger Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by about 400 votes after more than 280,000 ballots were cast.
Woodall won Forsyth with 68% of the vote. 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 also flipped one of Forsyth’s then-16 precincts in the 2018 gubernatorial race, the Brandywine Precinct in the southwestern corner of the county.
While Democrats have often challenged for the Congressional seats at the federal level, the state House and Senate seats have been less of a target.
Since 2012, the first election where all seven districts were redistricted to include Forsyth, Democrats have only had five campaigns for those seats.
Cantrell faced Democrats Oscar “Aschar” Hajloo and Ravencraft in 2016 and 2018, respectively, and Democrat Anita Tucker ran against Jones in 2018.
Democrats have run for District 27 in each of the last two elections, with Steve Smith running against Dolezal in 2018 and Daniel Blackman, a Forsyth resident who is running for a Public Service Commission seat this year, ran against then-state Sen. Michael Williams in 2016.
Boskey, who is running for a seat in the northern part of the county, said he knows what he’s up against and estimated about 80% of voters in District 26 were Republicans. But Boskey said giving voters a choice was important and a closer-than-expected race could show dissatisfaction among voters.
“The people deserve the opportunity to tell their representatives in state government, ‘We’re not happy with what you’re doing,’ so sitting out is not the right way in my opinion,” Boskey said. “The right way is to say, ‘I’ve got this other option, so I’m going to send a message to you.’”