Democrats bust down ancient GOP stronghold in Atlanta’s diversifying suburbs
– Advertisement – Gwinnett County, which dominates this seat (82% of the district is located here, with the balance in Forsyth County), spent decades as a GOP stronghold up and down the ballot. The suburb decisively voted for Ronald Reagan even as he was losing statewide in 1980 to Georgia’s former governor, President Jimmy Carter; Gwinnett County also backed Mack Mattingly 68-32 that year in his narrow victory over Democratic Sen. Herman Talmadge, a contest that made Mattingly the Peach State’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction.Campaign Action- Advertisement – However, things dramatically changed during the Donald Trump era in this well-educated and rapidly diversifying suburb. Trump outright lost Gwinnett County 50-44, and while he did win the 7th District, his 51-45 showing in 2016 was a big drop from what the GOP was accustomed to. Woodall himself easily turned back an underfunded Democratic foe that year in a contest that attracted no outside attention, and he seemed ardently convinced that he would remain safe despite Trump’s drop. In May of 2017, Woodall even glibly said of his own race, “It’s gerrymandering that makes these things noncompetitive, right?”That obliviousness to his seat’s changing politics almost cost him re-election in 2018. Bourdeaux, a Georgia State University public policy professor, won the Democratic nomination after a crowded primary, and she proved to be a strong fundraiser. Woodall, though, didn’t run any ads for most of the campaign or even do many advertised campaign events. However, he got something of a wake-up call late in the campaign when Independence USA, a super PAC funded by former New York City Mayor and gun safety advocate Michael Bloomberg, dropped $913,000 on him in the last days of the race. Finally, on the Friday before Election Day, Woodall went up with his first TV spot.Bourdeaux ended up losing to Woodall by just 433 votes in a performance that shocked both parties. It wasn’t an outlier, though: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, despite the taint of Republican voter suppression that marred her election, performed well in Gwinnett County and other Atlanta suburbs, and she even won the gerrymandered 7th District by a 50-49 margin.- Advertisement – Gwinnett County would continue to overwhelmingly support every Republican presidential nominee well into the first decade of the 21st Century, and the rapidly growing community was also a major source of strength for Team Red’s gubernatorial and Senate candidates during this time. The county also soon became very friendly turf for Republican congressmen. Woodall spent years working as an aide to local Rep. John Linder, who never had any trouble winning re-election during his nearly two decades in Congress, and Woodall himself faced no serious general election opposition when he ran to succeed his boss in 2010.Gwinnett County became more competitive during the 2000s, with John McCain carrying it just 55-45 four years after George W. Bush overwhelmingly won it 66-33, but that didn’t seem to matter much for Woodall. Republican mapmakers did all they could to make sure the 7th District remained safely red when they gerrymandered the maps in 2011, and he was left with a redrawn seat that included just over 70% of Gwinnett County as well as the same portion of Forsyth County, a smaller but far more conservative area. (About 22% of Gwinnett County, including its more Democratic areas, was assigned to the safely blue 4th District, while the balance went to the dark red 10th District.)For a time, the GOP gerrymander worked exactly as intended. The new 7th District backed Mitt Romney by a strong 60-38 margin even as he was carrying all of Gwinnett County only 54-45, which was Team Red’s weakest showing in a presidential race since Carter won it back in 1976. National Democrats also didn’t make any serious effort to unseat Woodall, who seemed completely safe.- Advertisement – Bourdeaux quickly made it clear that she’d be running again, and this time, both parties were aware that they’d have a fight in the 7th. Republicans reportedly weren’t keen on having Woodall stick around after he almost sleepwalked to victory, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in early February of 2019 that some unnamed GOP officials were pressuring him to “consider his options” for the cycle. Woodall seems to have gotten the message, and he announced his retirement days later.A number of candidates from both parties soon entered the race to succeed Woodall, but neither primary ended up going to a runoff. Bourdeaux’s opponent this time was Rich McCormick, an emergency room physician who received serious support from the far-right anti-tax Club for Growth. The general election also proved to be a very expensive affair, with the DCCC and House Majority PAC spending a total of $6.5 million on the Democratic side compared to $5 million from the NRCC and Congressional Leadership Fund.Ultimately, while House Democrats didn’t make the gains in the suburbs they were hoping for, Bourdeaux pulled off a victory. This pickup came as once solidly Gwinnett County continued to move hard to the left: Joe Biden led countywide by a 58-40 margin on Sunday evening, and Democrats will also be looking for a strong performance here in January as they try to win two U.S. Senate runoffs. Called RacesBelow we’re recapping a host of lesser-known but important elections that took place Tuesday, as well as a number of races that were called after Election Night. Quite a few contests remain uncalled, but we’re tracking all of them on our continually updated cheat-sheet, and of course we’ll cover each of them in the Digest once they’re resolved.HOUSE● NJ-02: Freshman Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018 but switched parties last year, has defeated Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy.● NV-04: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford has defeated Republican challenger Jim Marchant.● PA-07: Freshman Democratic Rep. Susan Wild has defeated Republican challenger Lisa Scheller.● PA-08: Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright has defeated Republican challenger Jim Bognet.● WA-03: Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has won her rematch against Democrat Carolyn Long.STATEWIDE OFFICE● PA-AG: Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro won re-election by beating Republican Heather Heidelbaugh 50-47.● PA Auditor: Republican Timothy DeFoor flipped this office by defeating Democrat Nina Ahmad 50-46.● WA-SoS: Republican incumbent Kim Wyman won a third term by defeating Democrat Gael Tarleton 53-47. Wyman’s victory allows her party to keep control of an office they’ve held since the 1964 election.BALLOT MEASURES● AZ Ballot: Voters passed Proposition 208, which creates a new tax on high earners to fund schools, by a 52-48 margin.PROSECUTORS● Larimer and Jackson Counties, CO District Attorney: Democrat Gordon McLaughlin flipped this open seat by defeating Republican Mitch Murray 53-47. McLaughlin is the first Democrat to serve as district attorney for this jurisdiction, which includes Fort Collins, in more than 80 years.● Los Angeles, CA District Attorney: Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón secured a win on Friday when incumbent Jackie Lacey conceded to her fellow Democrat. Gascón, who won 54-46, emphasized his support for criminal justice reform in the nonpartisan race to become district attorney of America’s largest county, which is home to 10 million people.Mayoral● Anchorage, AK Mayor: The Anchorage Assembly voted on Wednesday not to hold a January special election for the final months of now-former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s term. Voters in Alaska’s largest city will next go to the polls in April for the regularly-scheduled contest for a three-year term.While we now know that Anchorage won’t be hosting two mayoral elections just months apart, it remains to be seen if acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, whom the Assembly appointed last month following Berkowitz’s resignation, will run next year. The filing deadline is Jan. 29.Grab Bag● Deaths: Former Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican who represented the southern Twin Cities suburbs from 1991 until his retirement in 2009, died Thursday at the age of 74. Ramstad, who was a recovering alcoholic, was best known for his advocacy for legislation to aid addiction recovery.Ramstad got his start in elected office by unseating a Democratic state senator 54-46 in 1980, which turned out to be the closest race of his career. Ramstad went on to decisively win Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District in 1990 by a 67-33 margin, and he would go on to win re-election every two years with at least 64% of the vote.Democrats hoped that Ramstad’s retirement during the 2008 cycle would finally give them a shot at a district that George W. Bush had carried just 51-48, though he reportedly considered sticking around after he made his announcement. The congressman didn’t end up reversing course, though, and Republican Erik Paulsen would decisively hold it despite Obama’s 52-46 victory. Ramstad himself showed some interest in a 2010 gubernatorial run but didn’t go forward with it, and he never again sought office.