U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, conceded in her race for re-election Thursday, clearing the path for Democrat Lucy McBath to take office in January.
The 58-year-old Marietta resident will become the first person of color to represent the district.
McBath’s election marks the first time a Democrat has won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District since World War II veteran Jack Flynt, a conservative Democrat from Griffin, held the seat for 14 years in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The district looked very different then and didn’t consist of Atlanta’s north metro suburbs until the early ‘90s, according to Tom Scott, a Cobb County historian and professor emeritus at Kennesaw State University.
Today, Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District includes east Cobb and northern portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Lines were redrawn when the seat was held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was elected to the Sixth District on his third attempt in 1978 after Flynt’s retirement. Gingrich held the seat 20 years before resigning in 1999. His term was completed by Johnny Isakson, who represented the House district until 2005 when he became senator.
After that, the seat was comfortably held for more than 12 years by Tom Price, who resigned in February of 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Just three months earlier in the 2016 election, Price won the House seat with nearly 61.7 percent of the vote.
But the district, like the state, has changed significantly, according to Scott.
“The rural areas are still overwhelmingly Republican, but the urban areas have become solidly Democratic and the suburbs have been switching,” Scott said, citing Georgia’s changing demographics. “In another two years, we’re going to be a majority-minority county in Cobb.”
Money poured into last year’s special election to replace Price, which became the most expensive Congressional race in U.S. history.
Handel ended up defeating Democrat Jon Ossoff in a June 2017 runoff with about 51.8 percent of the vote. She held the seat until Tuesday when McBath beat her by fewer than 3,000 votes across the three-county district.
In an email sent out by her campaign on Thursday, Handel wrote that after reviewing the election data “it is clear that I came up a bit short.”
McBath received 159,353 votes, good for about 50.5 percent, to lead Handel, who received 156,419 votes, or 49.5 percent, according to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
Handel carried east Cobb, however, receiving about 55.7 percent of the vote in the county.
In her concession email, Handel congratulated McBath, saying she sends “only good thoughts and much prayer for the journey that lies ahead for her.”
Scott called Handel an attractive candidate who was widely admired for her previous successes, which include serving as Fulton’s commission chair and Georgia’s secretary of state.
“She’s a tough candidate to defeat,” he said, adding that McBath’s victory shows she struck a chord with her changing suburban district.
MCBATH’S PATH TO CONGRESS
McBath initially considered challenging state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, but opted to run for Congress following the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
She is no stranger to gun violence, having lost her only child, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, during a shooting outside a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in 2012. The shooting stemmed from an altercation over loud music being played by Davis and three of his friends outside the store. The shooter, software developer Michael David Dunn, was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McBath began advocating for gun reform after the death of her son, eventually working as a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an effort to combat gun violence in the U.S.
During her Congressional race, she said her top priority in Washington would be “putting lives over profit.”
“We’ve sent a strong message to the entire country,” she tweeted after Handel conceded. “Absolutely nothing — no politician & no special interest — is more powerful than a mother on a mission.”
This year, Everytown for Gun Safety dumped over $4 million into McBath’s primary and general election campaign.
The fact that Handel’s concession came the day after at least 12 people were killed in a mass shooting at a California bar wasn’t lost on McBath.
“It is unfortunately not surprising that on the very same day I officially became a congresswoman-elect, other families in this country are receiving the same exact call that I did six years ago when I learned my son had been murdered,” she wrote in a statement. “I pray that Congress will support me in taking action to prevent these tragedies from affecting the lives of so many.
While McBath’s campaign centered on changing America’s gun laws, any kind of weapons or ammunition ban signed into law could be difficult in the next Congress.
Republicans expanded their Senate majority Tuesday, and Trump remains a favored ally of the National Rifle Association. In his midterm campaign sweep, the president rallied supporters with promises to “protect the Second Amendment,” saying Democrats would take it away.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.