As Republican Rich McCormick and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux campaign for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, political experts are saying the race could be a prime example of the national battle between the two parties for the suburbs.
Professors of political science, Drs. Charles S. Bullock III, of the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, and Carl Cavalli, of the University of North Georgia, recently spoke to the Forsyth County News about their thoughts on the race and what they felt could be key factors.
As the 7th District is made up of the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, the professors said the race would be a faceoff between the inner and outer suburbs.
“You are seeing that change, and in fact, you are seeing two types of suburbs emerge, maybe unfortunately, but quite realistically, polarized just like the rest of the nation,” Cavalli said, “the outer suburbs that are as Republican as most suburbs have been, but inner suburbs, suburbs that are closer to center cities, are becoming much, much more Democratic.”
The district has been a priority for both parties in recent years as Republicans have tried to hold onto the metro Atlanta suburbs despite Democratic inroads.
“This is really a microcosm of something that’s playing out throughout the nation,” Cavalli said. “I don’t know if this district is literally representative of all districts, even suburban districts around the nation, but it is playing out much the same way in places all over the country.”
In 2018, Bourdeaux narrowly lost to incumbent Rob Woodall, who announced in 2019 he would not seek re-election for the seat he had held since 2011, by 419 votes.
In that race, 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.
“It’s still not going to be 60-40 races or even a 55-45 race, I don’t think for either candidate,” Cavalli said. “But certainly, [Bourdeaux] is going to be at least as competitive as last time, if not more so.”
Both candidates have already proved themselves popular with voters in the district after both avoided runoffs in their respective primaries with a crowded field of candidates.
Voters chose Bourdeaux, who teaches at Georgia State University and formerly worked at the Georgia Senate Budget and Evaluation Office and was chair of the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management, over fellow Democrats John Eaves, Nabilah Islam, Zahra Karinshak, Brenda Lopez Romero and Rashid Malik.
McCormick, an emergency medicine physician at Northside Hospital Gwinnett who served for more than 20 years in the Marine Corps and Navy as a pilot and emergency medicine physician, beat out Republicans Mark Gonsalves, Lynne Homrich, Renee Unterman, Lisa Noel Babbage, Zachary Kennemore and Eugene Yu.
While races typically favor the incumbent, Bullock said Bourdeaux’s name recognition, experience running in the district before and financial backing was a big benefit for the campaign.
“Bourdeaux got name recognition even if she lost because she spent a fair amount of money, she spent months and months campaigning, where Rich McCormick is not as well-known,” Bullock said.
With Forsyth County leaning heavily Republican and Gwinnett going Democratic in recent elections, the race is setting up to be a showdown in the two counties.
Bullock said Gwinnett “was marginally Democratic in the presidential election, then pretty solidly Democratic in the gubernatorial election” but Forsyth County, which has long been considered a Republican stronghold, was less likely to see a similar change in this election.
“Forsyth, being a bit further out, hasn’t really been touched by that kind of population turnover that has hit Gwinnett and Cobb and, 20 years ago, hit DeKalb County,” he said, “which is even closer in to the city of Atlanta, so those are the kinds of demographic trends we’ve got going on right now.”
Cavalli said based on trends, he anticipates even more Democratic voters coming out in Gwinnett than in 2018.
“Whether there will be more Republican votes coming out of that in order to offset what I anticipate will be an increased Democratic vote in Gwinnett, that may be the critical element,” he said.
He likened the trends in Georgia to those in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., a decade ago, when an area that had supported Republicans for decades became “pretty reliably Democratic.”
“This is an area that is changing, and while I can’t say that Georgia as a whole is going to become reliably Democratic, or even this district, it is certainly clear that it is becoming more and more Democratic,” Cavalli said, “to the point where this is clearly a tossup race, and in fact, it is even more of a tossup because you don’t have an incumbent with the advantages of an incumbent running for re-election.”
For all the ins and outs of the local campaign, Bullock said several outside factors could impact who voters choose in the election.
He said COVID-19 infections and a weakened economy would likely push voters toward Democrats, while a vaccine for the virus would likely benefit Republican candidates.
“Not everything is, not by a long shot, under the control of the two candidates,” Bullock said.
Along with those issues, both professors said the election between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will bring a higher than normal number of voters to the polls and will likely impact down-ballot races.
“Of course, this year, we have a presidential election,” Bullock said. “OK, that changes the dynamics also, in that both candidates may be somewhat helped and somewhat hurt by the candidate who is at the top of their ticket. We know, or at least expect, there will be higher turnout this year.”
With the presidential race leading the ticket, Cavalli said both parties were looking at the election as a referendum on President Donald Trump.
“Democrats think that it will play to their favor,” he said, “and of course, Republican supporters of Trump are some of the most intense supporters of any single candidate in a long time.”