Carolyn Bourdeaux’s hard-fought congressional battle pays off

But upcoming Republican-controlled redistricting could spell danger for the representative-elect from Georgia

Carolyn Bourdeaux’s hard-fought effort to flip Georgia’s 7th congressional district paid off this cycle when she prevailed over her Republican opponent, Rich McCormick, by nearly three percentage points in the heated open-seat race to succeed retiring Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA). 

“I am honored to be a part of the effort to turn Georgia blue,” Bourdeaux, a former public policy professor at Georgia State University, told Jewish Insider in an interview on Monday afternoon. “It was a four-year project for me to really work on building the community of people involved in the race in this district, and it is very moving to be a part of this sort of transformational change.”

The 50-year-old representative-elect came within just 433 votes of beating Woodall last cycle in a district controlled by Republicans since 1995. But thanks in large part to demographic shifts that experts say have changed the political calculus and given Democrats an edge, the GOP lost its hold on the majority-minority district of metropolitan Atlanta that is home to a growing immigrant population. 

Bourdeaux, whose campaign website includes promotional literature in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese, worked to make inroads with the district’s multicultural cross-section of voters throughout her first campaign — and she built on those connections in her successful second attempt at claiming the seat. 

“Just engaging the very diverse communities of this district, I think, made a huge difference,” said Bourdeaux, who was one of just a few congressional candidates to turn a district blue during an election year which saw Democrats lose seats in the House.

Looking ahead to her first term, Bourdeaux’s immediate goals, she said, include curbing the coronavirus crisis, passing an economic relief package and improving healthcare. “The pandemic has really highlighted the gaping holes in our safety net, how each and every one of us is only one lost job, one medical crisis away from medical bankruptcy,” she said. “We have to tackle the system. It is badly broken.”

During freshman orientation, she has found common cause with such new Democratic members as Nikema Williams of Georgia and Deborah Ross and Kathy Manning of North Carolina, the latter two of whom also picked up Republican-held seats. “Just as Southerners, we’ve talked a good deal,” Bourdeaux told JI, adding that she had also been making efforts to forge relationships with Republicans. 

“It’s a little bit more challenging to reach across the aisle right now, but I have collected some numbers and reached out to some of my counterparts,” she said, declining to name names. “I don’t want to get them into trouble.”

Bourdeaux draws the line, however, at collaborating with fringe members of the Republican Party like Marjorie Taylor Greene, the newly elected Georgia businesswoman and QAnon adherent. 

“The QAnon stuff is beyond the pale. It is not OK. And that is something we are going to call out whenever it crops up,” said Bourdeaux, who — in a questionnaire solicited by JI in August — accused Greene of espousing antisemitic conspiracy theories, “such as the claim that George Soros betrayed other Jews during the Holocaust.”

Bourdeaux said she has spoken with the American Jewish Committee about strategies for addressing antisemitism in Congress. “I don’t know if there’s any legislative paths,” she said, adding that she was determined not to “let people get away with that kind of antisemitic talk and rhetoric.”

“When we met we discussed her personal connection to the Jewish community and some of the antisemitism that she faced during her campaign,” Dov Wilker, AJC’s regional director in Atlanta, said of the group’s conversations with Bourdeaux, whose husband is Jewish. “She will be a wonderful representative for the state of Georgia when it comes to fighting antisemitism in the United States.”

Bourdeaux, who sends her son to Hebrew school, has developed close ties with Jewish community members in Atlanta. Steve Oppenheimer, a local pro-Israel activist, said he met Bourdeaux when she first ran for Congress and was impressed by the methodical approach she brought to crafting her position paper on Middle East foreign policy. 

“We really developed our relationship discussing and reviewing that paper, giving us both an opportunity to dive deeper to understand the issues,” Oppenheimer told JI. “I’ve done this many times over the years, but it was particularly interesting doing this with someone who is a professor in a school of public policy. I learned a lot in the process.”

Rep.-elect Carolyn Bourdeaux and her family. (Courtesy)

Bourdeaux supports continued aid to Israel, opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and is in favor of returning to the Iran nuclear deal.

“She researches everything,” said Jeanney Kutner, a member of J Street’s local steering committee in Atlanta. “She’s thorough.”

Bourdeaux got her start in politics as a legislative aide to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and later earned a Ph.D. in public administration from Syracuse University. During the recession, she took a leave of absence from her position as a professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University to serve as director of Georgia’s Senate Budget and Evaluation Office. She took another leave from the university to run for Congress. 

As she works to set up her offices in-district and on the Hill, Bourdeaux said she is simultaneously operating as a surrogate for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia who are locked in a heated battle with their Republican opponents ahead of the January 5 runoff that will decide which party controls the upper chamber. 

Bourdeaux, who has lent her field staff to the effort, is hopeful that the Democrats can pull off an upset this cycle. “What we know is that we have voters to win,” she said. “We just have to turn them out to vote.”

Meanwhile, Bourdeaux’s opponent, Rich McCormick — an emergency room physician and military veteran who has also flirted with QAnon — recently filed a statement of candidacy for 2022, when the district could very well be redrawn to favor Republican candidates. 

Bourdeaux, in conversation with JI, was unaware that McCormick had filed to run again. Her campaign manager, Shelbi Dantic, said the filing may simply indicate that he is “trying to retire campaign debt” and that it is unclear if he is running again. A spokesperson for McCormick did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, Charles S. Bullock III, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, predicts that Republicans, who will control redistricting in the state, could alter the 7th district’s map for the next cycle by jettisoning portions of the blue-leaning Gwinnett County population and pulling in Republicans from Forsyth and Hall Counties. 

That makeup, he postulated, could freeze Bourdeaux out of another term. “I think Bourdeaux is the one who is endangered,” he said of Georgia’s upcoming redistricting.

Despite the possible threat, Bourdeaux was intent on staying focused on the present as she prepares to be sworn into public office. “I can only say we will cross that bridge when we get there,” she said.

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