Expect the unexpected in Georgia politics. Latest example: U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, who has been a stalwart conservative voice for the 14th District in Congress for a decade, has decided not to run for another term. This surprise decision by Graves opens up a second Congressional seat in Georgia since 7th District Rep. Rob Woodall announced early this year he would not seek reelection.
The 14th District in the northwestern corner of the state is safe for Republicans – and for Graves who won his fifth term with more than 76% in the 2018 election. He cites personal reasons for stepping aside, saying he is “entering a new season in life” with his wife nearing retirement “and my kids suddenly adults.” He plans to join his family “in their new and unique journeys.” Looking back on his seven years in the Georgia House and a decade in Congress, Graves said the opportunities afforded him – “a North Georgia country boy from a single wide trailer – were far beyond my wildest dreams.”
Graves is vice chairman of a new Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, an island of bipartisanship in a sea of partisan division. The committee has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats who announced last week they will introduce legislation which Graves and Chairman Derek Kilmer, D-Washington, said is “the latest step in our work to bring real reform to the People’s House.” Among other provisions, the legislation would modernize technology and improve members’ access to documents and publications. Unfortunately, it will not reform the bitter partisanship exacerbated by the Democrats’ insistence on impeaching President Trump.
The decision by Graves to retire triggered speculation about potential Republican candidates including several Floyd County state legislators, among them Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, both of Rome, and Rep. Eddie Lumsden of Armuchee. However, the biggest surprise came from Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Alpharetta businesswoman who had announced for the 6th District seat held by Democrat Lucy McBath. But it seems the grass might be looking greener in northwest Georgia for Greene, a Christian conservative and gun rights activist. She had been urged by some 14th District residents and members of Congress to run for Tom Graves’ seat. If she decided to make the switch, she would move her residency to the district, a campaign official told the Rome News-Tribune.
The switch would be more good news for Republican Karen Handel, who is running for the 6th District seat she lost to Democrat gun control activist Lucy McBath two years ago by a very thin margin. While Greene was pondering her move, two of Handel’s GOP primary opponents dropped out within a week. They were state Sen. Brandon Beach and former Merchant Marine Nicole Rodden. If Greene should opt to pull out of that race, it would leave Handel with clear sailing in the primary in a tossup election that has both national parties pouring in funds and endorsements, reflecting Georgia’s newfound status as a battleground state.
It’s a different story in the 7th District based in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. Rep. Woodall, a senior member of the House Budget Committee, had won five terms and had served as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Yet in 2018 he only managed to squeak out a 433-vote win over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, a political newcomer and Georgia State University professor, already running again for the congressional seat with competition from a half-dozen other candidates in the Democratic primary. Democrats are licking their chops over the prospect of turning the 7th District blue next year — with good reason. In the 2018 gubernatorial election, Democrat Stacey Abrams carried Gwinnett by 14 percentage points as well as other large metro counties including Cobb.
So far seven Republicans have announced for the 7th District seat, the best known of them being State Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford, one of only two GOP women in the Georgia Senate.
Georgia is a battleground state but even with the 6th District a tossup and the 7th District in play, it seems unlikely that Democrats will make major inroads in the 2020 elections, given the popularity of Gov. Brian Kemp and the advantage of incumbency for both Republican and Democrat members of Congress. But again, there’s always the unexpected.