I’m in whose district? Congressional map leaves some voters on the other side of the line
By Tom Baxter
Politics in Georgia has some jagged edges, which reveal themselves when the maps are redrawn.
Some of Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott’s voters will be represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on the congressional map approved at the close of the General Assembly’s special session Monday. Voters in increasingly blue north Fulton County will be sharing a congressional seat with voters in Dawson County.
Every redistricting involves some degree of musical chairs, but the growing cultural divide between the parties sharpens the sense of dislocation for many voters who will be in many different districts than they are accustomed to.
The Republican map-drawers accomplished their chief strategic objective almost immediately after the session was gaveled to a close when U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath announced she was leaving the 6th District, which was redrawn to be solidly Republican, and jumping into the 7th District, which is already represented by Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.
This not only gives the Republicans a congressional seat, but it also sets up a potentially nationalized — and nasty — primary fight between McBath as a standard-bearer for the party’s progressive wing and Bourdeaux as a Democratic moderate. That kind of race could burn enormous amounts of Democratic money without laying a glove on a Republican.
It’s worth it to remember that in 2016, Republicans Tom Price and Rob Woodall won the 6th and 7th districts by margins of more than 20 percent over their Democratic opponents. That’s how fast the swing toward the Democrats has been in these districts.
The Republicans’ answer is a map that essentially cedes Gwinnett County to the Democrats, making a 7th District which is a much darker shade of blue than the one Bourdeaux won in last year. The 6th District, in contrast, is transformed from a district that grades out at plus-one Democrat to one that is plus-24 Republican.
It will be interesting to see which Republican emerges — or re-emerges, as might be the case with former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel — to claim this territory which has been set aside for them. It’s a lot more Republican, but a lot harder to move around in on a weekend back from Washington than the old 6th District — and a lot harder to keep all the Republicans in it happy.
One of the big questions about this map is whether the Democrats continue to gain ground in the suburbs as rapidly now that Donald Trump isn’t in the White House. If their pace slows significantly, the map could hold up for a long time.
On the other hand, the demographic trends which have given Democrats a new foothold in what was the bedrock territory of Georgia Republicans have not slowed or reversed course. The political point spreads assigned to districts when maps are being drawn are as much subject to change as those for football games.
What the Republicans don’t have on their side is demographics. What the Democrats don’t have on their side is geography. It’s true the state has a million more people than it had a decade ago and that they trend Democratic. But even with the Democrats’ dramatic expansion into Gwinnett, Cobb and other suburban counties, their footprint isn’t large on the congressional map. What’s blue is really blue — plus-60, plus-52 and plus-50 in the 5th, 13th and 4th Districts. But Republicans have a lot more territory to draw districts that are plus-31 and plus-17.
The loss of the 6th isn’t the only thing the Democrats have to worry about. The southwest Georgia 2nd District, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop has represented since 1993, has become more competitive.
Bishop had one close shave, back in 2010, when he edged Republican Mike Keown in a 51-49 percent race. In the redistricting the next year, most of Macon was moved from the 8th to the 2nd, raising the percentage of African-American voters and giving him smooth sailing for another decade. The new map reduces that percentage and creates a more competitive district.
Bishop has generally run well ahead of his party’s point spread in the district, but the new map takes the spread from a narrow plus-six at a very shaky plus-two. The veteran Democrat will be 75 next year.