By Jim EllisFeb. 11, 2019 — Five-term Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville), who survived the closest raw vote election of any winning incumbent last November (419 votes from just over 280,000 ballots cast against former state Senate committee staff director Carolyn Bourdeaux), announced late last week that he won’t seek re-election in 2020.
This opens a seat that was obviously highly competitive in the ’18 election cycle, but this lone result might not tell the entire story.
Only at the very end of the election cycle did Rep. Woodall launch a campaign, previously believing that his seat would perform as a safe Republican enclave just as it had since its inception under the 2001 redistricting plan, and then reconfigured in the 2011 remap. Then-Congressman John Linder (R) represented the district at the time and until his retirement before the 2010 election, always enjoying landslide re-election percentages.
Woodall was badly outspent by challenger Bourdeaux, falling behind her by a 2:1 ratio as his campaign posted less than $1.5 million in direct expenditures.
Upon the news of Rep. Woodall’s retirement becoming public, Ms. Bourdeaux confirmed that she would again become a candidate. Previously, 2018 contender David Kim, owner of a learning center chain of businesses who lost the Democratic run-off to Bourdeaux by only 569 votes, and attorney Marqus Cole had already announced that they would battle for the 2020 party nomination. Democratic state Reps. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) and Brenda Lopez Romero (D-Norcross) also confirm that they are considering the congressional race now that the seat will be open.
The potential Republican candidate field could be even larger than that of the Democrats, which would almost inevitably lead to a run-off election once the original primary concludes. Most multi-candidate primaries advance to a secondary election in states like Georgia that require party nominees to obtain majority support.
Among the early Republican names being mentioned are US Attorney B.J. Pak, state Sens. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), and P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), along with ex-state Rep. Scott Hilton and former state Sen. David Shafer, among others, according to Tamar Hallerman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper.
Other than the 2018 congressional election, the 7th District has performed as a reliable GOP district. President Trump carried it 51-45 percent in 2016, but he was the low performer among national Republican presidential nominees. Mitt Romney’s margin was 61-37 percent four years previous over President Barack Obama, and John McCain registered a 59-40 percent spread against then-Sen. Obama in 2008.
Prior to his close call in November, Woodall averaged 63.8 percent of the vote in his other four congressional victories. Therefore, it remains to be seen if the 2018 congressional race is an anomaly or a harbinger of new developing voting patterns.
The 7th District is comprised of approximately 70 percent of two Atlanta suburban counties, Gwinnett and Forsyth, with about 80 percent of the population residing in the former. The people live in generally small communities with Lawrenceville and Duluth being the largest, and they only report about 30,000 residents apiece. Other towns include Norcross, Buford, Grayson, Suwanee, and Cumming.
Woodall becomes the third House member to announce that he won’t be seeking re-election next year. Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) are the other two.