There will soon be a Democrat sitting where former Republican state Sen. Hunter Hill used to sit in the Georgia Senate.
Attorney Jen Jordan won Hill’s old spot Tuesday night after defeating dentist Jaha Howard, another Democrat, in a runoff election. Jordan scored 10,681 votes, or 64 percent to Howard’s 6,017 votes, or 36 percent.
Tuesday’s election marks the second time the District 6 seat has narrowly eluded Howard’s grasp. In 2016, Howard was defeated by Hill by less than 4 percent of the vote.
The fact that the top two vote-getters in this year’s November primary were Democrats came as a shock to many, but Cobb Democratic Party chair Michael Owens said it is a sign of things to come.
“We’re seeing a change in tides,” Owens said. “We’re seeing the Democratic Party increasingly starting to truly rebound and starting to become influential, the wills of the people starting to be influential about Democratic ideas and principles. Those candidates that are talking about those issues, it’s clear that voters are responding and are listening to the message.”
Speaking before the results came in, Jordan said she had been helped by a primary field with more Republican candidates, splitting the vote. The primary included five Republicans and three Democrats.
But she also said she hopes voters are starting to look beyond party politics.
“I think people are looking at the candidates, at least that’s what I’ve asked them to do,” she said. “Not the party designation, but the person … at the end of the day, I’m going to represent all the people.”
Owens said President Donald Trump, whose tenure in the White House has been marked by scandals and low approval ratings, may have also had a role to play.
“I think that’s obviously a component,” he said. “I’m specifically talking about the incredible energy within the Democratic Party, within the grass roots … Sure, Trump has had a part in that, in bringing people that were sitting on the sidelines and activating them to getting involved in politics, to just basically become more politically aware… But I don’t take this situation as just purely anti-Trump or some mandate against Trump. I think voters looked at the candidates they had and chose who they wanted to represent them most.”
Jordan said she does not think Trump’s win shocked the Democratic base as much as activated people who previously were not very politically involved.
“I think some folks were taken by surprise by Trump’s victory,” she said. “Maybe that was a lesson learned. If we want this democracy to work, we have to work at it, and we have to participate in it. And we have to support candidates that we like and we think can do a good job for us. People really are wanting to be more involved and participate more in elections across the board.”
Owens also said comments Howard made on social media several years ago that many called sexist and homophobic damaged his chances to win.
In the comments, which were initially reported by the Georgia Voice, Howard questioned whether there is a pro-homosexual agenda behind the Girl Scouts of America and suggested women should not be religious leaders, in addition to making other controversial statements.
“Undeniably it had an effect,” Owens said. “I think it sent out a message that is very problematic with many of the democratic and progressive members of the community in Cobb and Fulton. I think once something comes out like that, regardless of how old it is, the information is new to the public, fresh on people’s minds. It was probably insurmountable for him to overcome, particularly at a time where women are taking a forefront in the grassroots and in the progressive movement to have made the statements he made publicly during the election.”
Kerwin Swint, who chairs the political science department at Kennesaw State University, said he could not be sure how large a role Howard’s comments may have played in the final vote, but there is a national trend of women rising in American politics.
“Look at all the women that won yesterday,” Swint said. “That’s one of the story lines. I think women in politics are having a moment, and that had to be referenced in the results yesterday in Georgia.”
Owens said the Cobb Democrat ranks have grown big league since Trump’s election, and they have quadrupled the number of meetings they hold.
Swint said Owens’ rosy outlook may be justified.
“(District 6 is) a competitive district,” Swint said. “I do think this fits into the trend of it being a Democrat winning streak. … I think Democrats should celebrate.”
The real test will come next year when Jordan faces election again, this time as an incumbent. Swint said she may end up serving for more than just the remainder of Hill’s term.
“I think a Democrat, that being a competitive district, stands a reasonable chance,” he said. “It will depend in part on her and her service and her record. … In the whole metro area, both parties can’t take anything for granted. It’s really going to require a lot of attention to the precinct level.”
Swint said that means candidates and parties will need to focus on the issues that voters care about down to the neighborhood level.
“We’ll wait and see what 2018 brings,” Swint said. “If Democrats continue their hot streak, that will be a really big year for them, but only time will tell.”