U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux has been cashing in recently on the relationships she’s spent years building with prominent Black community leaders in and around Gwinnett County as her May 24 Democratic primary showdown with fellow Georgia U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath for the 7th Congressional District seat rapidly approaches.
Bourdeaux’s primary strategy in a growing, multicultural electorate appears to mirror the path Joe Biden took to secure the Black vote during the 2020 presidential primary season before ultimately defeating Donald Trump in the general election.
She’s the only non-Black Democratic primary candidate in an increasingly diverse congressional district that has a more than 23% Black population as of Dec. 30, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The district’s Democratic primary electorate is roughly 55% Black, according to private data firm research cited by McBath’s campaign team.
“I’ve been working very hard on continuing to reach out to people in the community,” Bourdeaux told Capital B. “I’ve been endorsed by, I think it’s over 50 community leaders now.”
That list of endorsements includes former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Gwinnett County Chairperson Nicole Love Hendrickson, the woman who in 2020 became the first Black person ever to be elected to the position.
It also includes state House Rep. Dewey McClain, D-100th, and local religious leaders like Pastor Avery Headd of Poplar Hill Baptist Church in Buford, as well as Pastor Gregory Baker of Freedom Church in Lilburn.
Their support could be crucial for Bourdeaux, who is white, as she fights to retain the office she’s held since defeating Republican Rich McCormick in November 2020.
McBath — a breast cancer survivor and prominent gun control advocate whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was fatally shot by a white vigilante in 2012 — has been touting endorsements of her own after receiving nods from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and the pro-gun control political action committees Brady PAC and Giffords PAC, in addition to her compelling personal story.
“As a Black woman, I’ve experienced many highs and many lows,” she told Capital B in an emailed statement. “I experienced the overwhelming joy of raising my son and the crushing experience of losing him to gun violence. I struggled as a working mom. I’ve beaten breast cancer twice. I know firsthand these issues are life and death — because I have lived it. That is why I have been an unwavering supporter of President Biden’s agenda.”
State House Rep. Donna McLeod, D-105th, is the dark horse candidate in the recently redrawn 7th District, in which McBath is the projected front-runner, according to a Data for Progress poll unveiled on Feb. 1.
The survey of likely 7th District Democratic primary voters, conducted in January, also found 47% of Black locals polled support McBath. Bourdeaux came in a distant second with 22% of the vote. Eight percent of Black folks surveyed said they’d vote for McLeod. An additional 23% said they were undecided.
“The 7th District is very diverse,” Bourdeaux said. “Going back to these really diverse communities and getting them re-engaged in this race, and in democracy, that always gives me a lot of joy to do that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights and the economy were the top three issues concerning Black 7th District Democratic primary voters, according to Data for Progress.
Black voters are expected to play a pivotal role in Georgia’s 7th District race thanks in part to Republicans who control both chambers of the state assembly.
Late last year, state GOP leaders unveiled a new set of electoral maps, including a U.S. congressional map that turned McBath’s previously competitive 6th District into a Republican-leaning one.
The more challenging political landscape motivated McBath to take her chances competing against Bourdeaux in what is now a solid blue district that includes some of her old 6th District territory.
The primary battle between Bourdeaux and McBath likely will decide who wins the general election in November. Their voting records have been virtually identical since Bourdeaux took office in 2021. The two candidates have taken the same position on legislation 98% of the time since then, according to ProPublica.
The most defining difference in their legislative record has been their approach to getting Biden’s Build Back Better Act passed through both houses of Congress.
In October, the revised $3.5 trillion spending package included an expanded child care tax credit, investments in affordable housing, government health care programs and efforts to combat climate change, among other major policy initiatives.
Bourdeaux was one of nine House Democrats who in August signed a letter refusing to support the budget resolution needed to pass Build Back Better unless House Dems agreed to pass their own version of the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill first.
Progressive Democrats initially refused to vote in favor of the infrastructure bill unless Senate Dems agreed to support Build Back Better. The progressive House Dems ultimately caved and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., rewarded their compromise by refusing to support the Build Back Better package, effectively putting Biden’s signature policy proposal on ice.
But Bourdeaux said she doesn’t regret her position on the matter.
“The concern was that we would walk away with nothing, so we did need to get infrastructure done,” she said. “The entire Democratic caucus ultimately agreed with me and passed that bill.”
With so much in common on the issues, Bourdeaux and McBath’s personalities and identities are expected to play more critical roles with voters, according to University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
“If you’re Black, my guess would be you’d say, ‘Assuming that the two candidates will both vote about the same way I’d like to see them vote, you might as well vote with a person with whom I share a racial tie,’” Bullock said.
“We know that candidates always try to play upon this, not just on race,” he continued. “If a person is going to try to sort out between what they see as equally viable choices … [they’re] just kind of looking for a point of connection.”
Ultimately, Bullock said, the candidates’ get-out-the-vote efforts may be the deciding factor in what he expects will be a relatively tight primary race.
“If one of them’s done a better job of identifying her likely supporters, courting them, monitoring whether they’re voting early, encouraging them to be sure they go vote, it could make the difference,” he said.