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Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump districts post strong fundraising numbers for 2020 re-election bids

Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats show more fundraising success so far than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 have posted strong fundraising numbers during the first half of 2019, stocking up their war chests ahead of expected stiff re-election challenges from Republicans in 2020, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

McBath

Cunningham

Topping the list was Joe Cunningham of South Carolina at $1.28 million, followed by Lucy McBath of Georgia at $1.15 million and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia at $1.12 million. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma raised $961,500, while in Virginia, Elaine Luria raised $865,400.

All five hold significant leads in fundraising over their Republican rivals, although McBath’s GOP challengers have, together, raised more money than she has. So far, Spanberger and Luria are getting a free ride against GOP challengers who have raised very little money, with 17 months to go before election day.

The new numbers also show that across the South, Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats have had somewhat more fundraising success to date than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats, with no significant fundraising to this point from Republican challengers in five of the 10 seats Democrats flipped in 2018.

Hurd

However, the lone Southern Republican who represents a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 — Will Hurd in West Texas’s 23rd District — raised $1.23 million, more than twice as much as Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, whom he beat in 2018.

The race that has drawn the most money so far is the contest in Georgia’s 7th District, a GOP-held seat in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs where Rob Woodall is retiring. Seven Republicans and five Democrats have together raised nearly $2.9 million, with Republican State Senator Renee Unterman and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who nearly unseated Woodall in 2018, leading the pack.

In 2018, five Democrats won Clinton districts that had been held by Republicans — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Texas; and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. Powell, Allred and Fletcher have all raised more than $1 million for 2020; Wexton, $932,400; and Shalala, $691,500.

Shalala, Allred and Wexton have yet to draw challengers who have raised significant amounts of money. Mucarsel-Powell and Fletcher have, although both hold a significant fundraising advantage over their nearest Republican rival at this point in the campaign cycle.

The Democrats’ House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is targeting 11 Southern seats currently held by Republicans, and Democratic challengers have raised at least $300,000 in six of those districts, including four seats in Texas, where Democrats hope to build on gains made in 2018.

The Republicans’ House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is targeting 12 Southern seats currently held by Democrats, and Republican challengers have raised at least $300,000 in just three of those districts, held by Horn, McBath and Fletcher.

GOP challengers have topped the $200,000 mark in the race against Cunningham and in two other Democrat-held seats in Florida, now held by Mucarsel-Powell in South Florida and Charlie Crist in Pinellas County.

The most glaring absence for Republicans is in Virginia, where all three Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 — Spanberger, Luria and Wexton — are, to this point, getting a free ride.

Based on the latest fundraising numbers, here are the 2020 races to keep an eye on:

Texas: Democratic challengers have raised substantial money in four districts where Republican incumbents won narrow victories in 2018: Hurd in West Texas; Pete Olson in suburban Houston; Kenny Marchant in Dallas-Ft. Worth; and Michael McCaul, whose district runs from the suburbs of Austin to the suburbs of Houston. All four incumbents still hold a fundraising advantage, although Olson has only raised $230,000 more than Democrat Sri Kulkarni, whom he beat by just 5 points in 2018, and two Democrats running against McCaul have together raised nearly $670,000, compared to his $875,500. Given that Democrats are staying competitive financially, all four of these races will likely be close in 2020.

Georgia 6/Atlanta’s Northwest Suburbs: McBath shocked the political world in 2018 when she defeated Republican Karen Handel, a former statewide officeholder with a long political pedigree. Handel is trying a comeback in 2020, and the Republican race has already turned into a food fight between her and former State Senator Brandon Beech. But the surprise so far in fundraising has come from Republican Marjorie Greene, a Milton businesswoman making her first run for political office who has already raised $523,400, eclipsing both Handel and Beech. And while Republicans will need to spend money slugging it out in a primary, McBath has what appears to be an unobstructed path to the Democratic nomination.

Georgia 7/Atlanta’s Northeast Suburbs: After winning by a scant 420 votes in 2018, Woodall decided to retire. Bourdeaux, the woman who nearly toppled him, is running again and currently holds a large fundraising lead over her Democratic rivals at $654,200. On the Republican side, Unterman — best known in the legislature as the author of a controversial law outlawing abortions once a child’s heartbeat has been detected — has raised $677,500, followed by Lynne Hormich, a former Home Depot executive making her political debut, at $500,300. This race, which could feature two Republican women in a runoff, will closely watched by GOP leaders looking to add to the thin ranks of Republican women in Congress.

Oklahoma 5/Metro Oklahoma City: Horn may arguably be the nation’s most vulnerable Democrat, in ruby red Oklahoma. And while she has posted strong fundraising numbers so far, two Republican rivals have together raised more than $710,000 to her $961,500. One key to her ultimate survival is how much money her GOP rivals will spend in a primary; right now, businesswoman Terry Neese has outraised the other Republican in the race, State Senator Stephanie Bice, by a 3-to-1 margin. The less competitive the Republican primary is, the more Horn will need to worry — but she’ll need to worry quite a bit in any case.

South Carolina 1/Charleston and the Lowcountry: Cunningham, too, faces an uphill battle for re-election in a traditionally Republican district. But his fundraising has been strong — only two Southern incumbents in either party have raised more money — and he has been trying to carve out a moderate voting record. Three Republicans running against him have, together, raised just a little more than $540,000, less than half of his total. Cunningham is to this point running a textbook campaign for someone trying to survive tough political terrain.

Two Seats To Watch: In Florida’s 13th District, Republican Amanda Makki, a former congressional aide, raised $220,000 is less than a month in her quest to unseat Crist, a former Florida governor who at various times in his career has been a Republican, an independent and now a Democrat. In North Carolina’s 2nd District, in and around Raleigh, Democrat Scott Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran, has raised more than $300,000 in his challenge against Republican incumbent George Holding for a seat that could be the top pick-up prospect for Democrats in the Tar Heel State next year.

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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South

Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.

Chicken Fried Politics Editor Rich Shumate

Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.

Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.

Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.

Chip Roy

Ross Spano

And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.

Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give

Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.

The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)

Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.

Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.

Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.

Andy Barr

However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.

McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.

Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.

Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.

Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Lucy McBath

Joe Cunningham

The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.

Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.

All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.

Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.

Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.

Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.

Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.

Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.

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Georgia GOP U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall won’t seek re-election in 2020

Decision will give Democrats a prime pickup opportunity in the Atlanta suburbs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — After nearly losing his seat to a Democratic challenger in 2018, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall has announced that he will forgo an expected rematch and instead retire from the House in 2020 after four terms.

Woodall is the first Southern congressman to forgo a re-election bid in 2020, opening the 7th District seat in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs, a once a solidly Republican area that has shifted Democratic.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Georgia

The congressman announced the decision in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing family concerns, including the recent death of his father, for his decision.

“Doing what you love requires things of you, and having had that family transition made me start to think about those things that I have invested less in because I’ve been investing more here,” he said.

He said he wanted to announce his retirement early in the 2020 cycle to “give the next team time to prepare.”

After Woodall’s retirement, Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux — who lost to him by just 433 votes after a recount in what turned out to be the closest House race of 2018 — announced that she will seek the 7th District seat again in 2020, a contest that will be a the top of both party’s target lists.

Bordeaux, a professor at Georgia State University, has scheduled her formal announcement for February 12.

While Bordeaux will be a prohibitive favorite on the Democratic side, the race is likely to draw a large field of Republican candidates, from among both state legislators and local officials.

The 7th District is centered in Gwinnett County, which has been trending less Republican as its growing population has become more racially and ethnically diverse. It also includes parts of Forsyth County, which remains solidly Republican.

Overall, the district is now majority non-white, with large and growing African American, Asian and Latino communities.

Woodall, 48, served as an aide to the district’s former representative, U.S. Rep. John Linder, before being elected to the seat in 2010 when Linder retired.

He won re-election by relatively safe margins before running into Bordeaux and a Democratic suburban wave in 2018 that nearly took him down.

In the neighboring 6th District, Republican incumbent Karen Handel lost to Democrat Lucy McBath, a seat the GOP will try to reclaim in 2020.

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Decision ’18: Democrats’ net gain of 10 Southern U.S. House seats came in the suburbs

Republicans still have 2-to-1 advantage and hold the line in North Carolina, upper South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — With all races now decided, Democrats have made a net gain of 10 U.S. House seats across the 14 Southern states in the November 6 election.

While that total was an improvement over their results in 2014 and 2016, Democrats flipped only about a third of the seats they targeted, and Republicans will still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in Southern seats when Congress reconvenes in January.

Democratic gains were centered in suburban areas around major cities, including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Richmond, Miami, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. They also carried a district that contains metro Oklahoma City and another that includes Charleston and the Low Country of South Carolina.

However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.

Among those losses was in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath could not pull out a victory despite raising an astounding $7.8 million, more than any other Southern challenger in this election cycle.

McBath

Hurd

Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.

Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock in Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District in Miami-Dade, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.

Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.

In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans.

Two of the seats that flipped to Democrats were won by African-American candidates — McBath in Georgia and Colin Allred in Texas — and one by a Latina, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who defeated Curbelo.

Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the new House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.

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Decision ’18: Last uncalled Southern U.S. House seat heading for recount

With Georgia’s 7th District remaining to be called, Democrats have netted 10 seats in the South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The South’s last uncalled U.S. House race, in Georgia’s 7th District, is headed for a recount with the Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, holding a slender 419-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Carolyn Bourdeaux.

With that race in the balance, Democrats’ overall gain in the South stands at 10, just a third of the total number of seats that they had targeted heading into the November 6 vote. All of those seats were in urban and suburban areas where the Democratic vote surged.

Bourdeaux

Woodall

Bourdeaux said Friday that she will ask for a recount. Under state law, a losing candidate can seek a recount if the winning margin is less than 1 percent; Woodall’s lead is 0.14 percent.

State election officials have not announced a timetable for the recount. But Georgia uses electronic voting machines without paper ballots, so recounts tend to be finished quickly.

The 7th District is located in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

Across the South, Democrats’ best results came in Virginia, where they ousted Republican incumbents in the 2nd, 7th and 10th Districts, which are located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond and Hampton Roads.

Democrats also scored surprise wins in South Carolina’s 1st District, which includes Charleston, and Oklahoma’s 5th District, centered in Oklahoma City.

However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.

McBath

Hurd

Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.

Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.

Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.

In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans. Two of the flipped seats were won by African-American candidates and one by a Latina.

Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the next House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.

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Decision ’18: Federal judge stops Georgia from certifying election results

Democrat Stacey Abrams faces daunting math in quest for runoff in governor’s race;  7th District U.S. House race still too close to call

ATLANTA (CFP) — A federal judge has stopped Georgia’s secretary of state from certifying election results, extending for at least two more days Democrat Stacey Abrams’s slender hope of forcing her race against Republican Brian Kemp for governor into a runoff.

Meanwhile, a different federal judge ordered elections officials in suburban Gwinnett County to stop rejecting absentee ballots with incorrect or missing birth dates. The 7th U.S. House District, in which incumbent Republican Rob Woodall holds a small lead over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, is centered in Gwinnett.

Ruling in a lawsuit filed by Common Cause Georgia, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg delayed the state’s certification of results until at least Friday at 5 p.m. to give voters who cast provisional ballots in the November 6 election more time to validate their registration information so that their votes can count. The certification of results from the state’s 159 counties had been expected Wednesday.

Totenberg also ordered the state to create a secure phone line or website where voters who cast provisional ballots can find out if their ballot has been rejected and, if so, why. Under state law, voters who cast provisional ballots have until Friday to provide documentation that would validate their votes.

Totenberg was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama. She is the sister of Nina Totenberg, NPR’s Supreme Court correspondent.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, 21,700 provisional ballots were cast statewide, usually by voters who were not listed on the registration rolls of the precinct where they tried to vote or who could not provide an accepted form of identification. However, the Abrams campaign believes the number of provisional ballots is at least 30,820.

Stacey Abrams

Brian Kemp

The latest results show Kemp with a lead of 57,863 votes over Abrams, well beyond the number of provisional ballots. But if Kemp’s margin can be reduced to the point where he no longer has a majority of votes, under a law unique to Georgia, the two would face each other again in a runoff in December.

However the math for Abrams is daunting — if there are 30,800 provisional ballots, as her campaign claims, and all of them are valid, she would have to win 83 percent of them just to get the race to a runoff. If there are 21,700, she would have to win 98 percent.

And in court filings, state elections officials have said that usually only half of provisional ballots can be verified to count. If that is the case with the outstanding provisional ballots, a runoff is a mathematical impossibility unless more provisional ballots are found.

Kemp served as secretary of state during the election but resigned after claiming victory in the governor’s race. His campaign has been insisting that Abrams has no viable path to overcome his lead. His current lead is also large enough that Abrams cannot ask for a recount.

But the Abrams camp — which had criticized Kemp’s stewardship of the election process while serving as both secretary of state and a candidate for governor — established a hotline to locate voters who say they had trouble voting on election day, hoping to locate more potential provisional ballots.

In the 7th District race, Woodall holds a 900-vote lead over Bordeaux. With no third-party candidate in the race, a runoff is not a possibility, but the race is currently close enough to trigger a runoff.

Gwinnett County, the state’s second-largest located northeast of Atlanta, is the population center of the district, which also includes parts of Fulton and Forsyth counties. The county’s handling of absentee ballots has been contentious throughout the election, amid news reports that the county was rejecting absentee ballots at a higher rate than any other county in Georgia.

Bordeaux had gone to court alleging that the county had rejected more than 1,000 absentee ballots for “trivial” reasons. United States District Judge Leigh Martin May agreed with that argument, but only for some 220 ballots that had errors in birth dates.

May is also an Obama appointee.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel’s hard-won stay in Congress comes to a swift end

After winning her seat in 2017 in the most expensive U.S. House race in history, Georgia Republican concedes to political newcomer Lucy McBath

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — In April 2017, veteran Georgia Republican politico Karen Handel, after twice losing races for statewide office, had arrived at the promised land, at end of a very long road.

She won a special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, narrowly defeating Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff after $50 million was spent in a race fueled by Democratic anger over the election of Donald Trump.

Her future seemed assured in the 6th, anchored in Atlanta’s wealthy northern suburbs. The historically Republican seat had been previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, who gave it up to serve in Trump’s cabinet. And when Ossoff decided not to challenge Handel again in the midterm election, her seat seemed secure and her political career restored.

Lucy McBath

Karen Handel

Until Tuesday’s midterm election, when Handel lost her seat to Democrat Lucy McBath, who didn’t have Handel’s political pedigree but did have a compelling personal story and an issue — gun control.

“After carefully reviewing all of the election results data, it is clear that I came up a bit short on Tuesday,” Handel said in a letter to Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “Congratulations to Representative-Elect Lucy McBath and send her only good thoughts and much prayer for the journey that lies ahead for her.”

The final result was close. Unofficial results showed McBath with a 2,900-vote lead, out of 316,000 votes cast. For Handel, it was déjà vu all over again — in 2010, she lost a Republican primary runoff for governor by 2,500 votes.

McBath, 58, a former flight attendant, had never held political office before. But she became a gun control activist after her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death outside a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida, by a man upset about loud hip-hop music played by Davis and three of his friends.

The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was convicted of first-degree murder in Jordan’s death and sentenced to life in prison.

After her son’s death, McBath became a national spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and was part of a group of mothers of slain African-American teens who appeared at the 2016 Democratic Convention. She decided to run for Congress after last February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died.

“Six years ago, I went from a Marietta mom to a mom on a mission,” McBath said in a statement declaring victory. “After my son was lost to gun violence, I stood up and started demanding more. After Parkland, I was compelled to enter this race for Congress — to provide leadership that would be about the business of putting lives over profit.”

McBath’s quest seemed implausible, running as she was against someone who had been county commission chair in the state’s largest country (Fulton) and secretary of state and came just a percentage point short in a race that would likely have made her governor. Gun control is also not an issue that generally helps Democrats, or anybody else, in Georgia.

Yet, McBath’s victory did not come completely out of left field. The district has become more diverse in recent years, with growing African-Amercian, Latino and Asian populations. Trump had only carried the 6th by 1.5 points in 2016, and Handel had to fight hard to win it in 2017. And toward the end of the campaign, McBath was winning the money chase, outraising Handel by a substantial margin.

Handel also wasn’t the only suburban Southern Republican who found tough sledding in the midterms. Incumbents lost in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond, Dallas, Houston and Miamia and even in Oklahoma City and Charleston, S.C..

But Handel’s loss, and a close call in the adjoining 7th District for Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, harbors a new reality for Georgia Republicans — in the age of Trump, suburbs are no longer safe GOP territory, even in the South.

The race for Georgia governor showed the ominous portents that may await. Democrat Stacey Abrams carried not only Fulton and DeKalb counties, both with large African-American populations, but also seven surrounding suburban counties, including the two biggest, Cobb and Gwinnett. Of the eight congressional districts that contain parts of metro Atlanta, four will now be held by Democrats, and a fifth was very nearly lost.

Republicans will, no doubt, come after McBath in 2020; the 6th is now truly a swing district. But she will have two years to build up her political profile, and she will be running for re-election in a presidential election year, which usually helps Democrats.

And Lucy McBath will always be the woman who won a race she wasn’t supposed to win, against a woman who wasn’t supposed to lose.

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