By Tom Baxter

In one way or another, you can connect just about everything else that’s happening in Georgia politics this year to the two big congressional battles in the north Atlanta suburbs.

Start with this year’s most intriguing “what if?” What if Marjorie Taylor Greene hadn’t bought a condo in the mountains and jumped into another congressional race? What if she had stayed in the 6th District where she started as a new-broom challenger to former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel and state Sen. Brandon Beach?

When she got in that race last year, Greene talked about opposing omnibus spending bills and the Fair Tax, and pitched her business experience. She sounded like Kelly Loeffler, with sharper elbows. Her Q Anon connections might have come out in that race also, but at least at the outset, she wasn’t firing assault rifles from the back of her Humvee.

Greene spotted a better opportunity when Tom Graves announced he was retiring from the 14th District seat, headed for the hills and changed her campaign style. She would have been a long shot against Handel, but she could have complicated the Republican primary and forced Handel to spend more of the money she needs in her final sprint against Democrat Lucy McBath.

That early 6th District rivalry continues, in proxy form. Handel was an early support of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, and over the past couple of weeks Greene and Loeffler have become bestest Humvee buddies.

For another example of how all roads lead to these two races, take the uproar over U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s mispronunciation of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ name Friday at the Donald Trump rally in Macon.

Perdue’s Democratic rival, Jon Ossoff, raised a couple million dollars over the weekend as Perdue’s mocking reference circulated on the news. But the place where his remark could have the biggest political bite is the 7th District, where more people get their names mispronounced, probably, than anywhere else in Georgia.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, the 7th District is 45.8 percent white, 19.3 percent Latino, 19 percent African-American, and 13.1 percent Asian. The results of the current census will probably push the percentages for Latinos and Asians higher. That’s part of why the race between Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and Republican Rich McCormick is one of the most interesting in the country.

Bourdeaux’s 2018 loss to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall was the closest congressional race in that cycle, close enough to convince Woodall not to run again. Her Republican opponent this year is a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot and Morehouse Medical School-educated emergency room doctor who made a strong political debut in the Republican primary, winning it without a runoff.

This used to be the heartland of Fair Tax, when much of it was in the 4th District and former U.S. Rep. John Linder was the leading spokesman for that movement. McCormick is trying to hold on to that conservative majority, but with the challenge of appealing to a much more diverse constituency.

“You came to America for opportunities,” McCormick said last week at the Young-Loudermilk Atlanta Press Club debate, when asked to tell immigrants in the district what he would do to guarantee their access to health care. “If you have employment, you’ll have good health care, and if you don’t have employment we have a plan for that too.”

McCormick presented himself as a frontline fighter against the pandemic who has continued to treat patients during the campaign, but Bourdeaux hammered him repeatedly for suggesting in previous statements that the pandemic had passed its peak.

“One of the reasons it is so shocking to me that you continue to downplay the virus is that you see the frontline impact of it,” she said.

It’s nothing new for Republicans in suburban districts to use the word “radical” to describe the policies of their Democratic opponents. But the year McBath and Bourdeaux’s ads throw that word back at their Republican opponents with equal or greater vehemence, specifically as it relates to their positions on the pandemic and healthcare.

You wonder whether Republican-leaning voters fed up with Trump will still vote for Handel and McCormick, whether Bourdeaux has won over all of her diverse electorate, and whether the Loeffler-Collins battle could have down-ballot implications in these races. Those are a few keys to two of the most important Congressional races in the country.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern...

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