One Republican holds the congressional seat of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The other is a four-term GOP congressman accustomed to winning by wide margins.
After Tuesday’s vote, U.S. Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall of Georgia were both at risk of losing re-election in suburban Atlanta districts long considered safe for Republicans.
Handel’s Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, declared victory in their contest Wednesday. Unofficial returns showed the vote margins separating the incumbent Republicans and their rivals hovering near the 1 percent threshold that could trigger a recount.
The Associated Press had not declared a winner in either race. However, Thursday morning, Handel conceded the 6th Congressional District race to McBath.
Absentee ballots were still being counted Wednesday and provisional ballots remained untallied across the state. The Georgia secretary of state’s office said it would certify the official vote within the next week.
The contests determine if Democrats add to their majority after winning control of the U.S. House in the Tuesday midterm elections. Georgia Democrats saw an opening in both districts as demographic shifts have made Atlanta’s suburbs less white. They also sought to capitalize on college-educated voters disaffected with President Donald Trump.
McBath, a gun-control activist whose teenage son was fatally shot in 2012, declared victory Wednesday.
“After a hard fought race, I am honored to announce that the people of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District have put their trust in my vision for the future of our district and nation,” McBath said in a statement.
Handel said in a statement Thursday morning that it’s clear she “came up a bit short” in Tuesday’s vote.
Handel congratulated McBath, offering “good thoughts and much prayer for the journey that lies ahead for her.”
Handel was sent to Washington from the same 6th District battleground where Democrat Jon Ossoff spent $30 million last year but fell short in a closely watched special election.
In the neighboring 7th District, four-term GOP incumbent Woodall struggled against Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, a college professor who outpaced the congressman in total fundraising.
Woodall’s campaign manager, Derick Corbett, said the campaign had no immediate comment Wednesday. Bourdeaux’s campaign spokesman, Jake Best, said they were still waiting for absentee ballots to be counted in Gwinnett County.
“We know we’re getting closer,” Best said. “But we don’t know how much is left.”
Georgia law guarantees an election recount if a losing candidate requests it after finishing behind the winner by a vote margin of 1 percent or less. Because in-person votes are cast electronically in Georgia, with no auditable paper trail, a recount mostly consists of re-tabulating digital votes already stored on machines. Those results aren’t likely to change.
However, absentee votes and provisional votes — those cast by voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls — are still cast on paper ballots in Georgia. Counting those a second time has produced minor changes in the vote total during prior elections.
McBath ran on strengthening gun laws and received national attention as she campaigned as a “mother on a mission.” McBath’s 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was fatally shot at a Florida gas station in 2012 by a white man angry over the loud music the black teenager and his friends were playing in their car. She later became a national spokeswoman for the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Woodall has represented suburban Atlanta’s 7th District since 2011. The Republican won each of his prior elections with no less than 60 percent of the vote. Rather than distance himself from Trump, Woodall campaigned as an experienced lawmaker who could “get results from this president.”
Bourdeaux is a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University in Atlanta and once worked at the state Capitol as director of Georgia’s Senate Budget and Evaluation Office. She raised more than $1.9 million for the race as of Sept. 30, compared to Woodall’s $1.02 million.
Editor’s note: This article was updated after Karen Handel conceded the 6th Congressional District race.