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Lucy McBath Defeats Karen Handel, Flipping Historically Red District in Georgia

After a recount delayed results, Lucy McBath has declared victory over Karen Handel, flipping a contentious congressional seat Democrats lost in 2017.
Lucy McBath
Lynsey Weatherspoon

First-time candidate and gun control activist Lucy McBath declared victory over Republican incumbent Karen Handel in Georgia's 6th congressional district on Thursday, after a razor-thin margin triggered a recount in a symbolic race for the Democratic Party.

When supporters left McBath's results party early Wednesday morning, Handel had been leading McBath by a mere 60 votes, and McBath sent revelers home, telling them they likely wouldn't see definitive results for a few days. “It’s been a long night,” McBath told a restless crowd around 12:40 AM. “But it’s not over yet. This is a very, very close race. … We're looking forward over the next few days to have the voice of the remaining voters be heard.”


As of the final count, McBath has defeated Handel by 0.9 percentage points and 2,934 votes.

"This win is just the beginning," McBath wrote in a Thursday morning tweet. "We’ve sent a strong message to the entire country. Absolutely nothing—no politician and no special interest—is more powerful than a mother on a mission."

McBath's victory in Georgia's 6th is a particularly vindicating one for Democrats. The seat was the first one Democrats tried to flip in the Trump era, and individual party donors spent $30 million trying to elect Jon Ossoff in 2017's special election. In the end, he fell to Handel by about four points.

Many people who supported McBath, worked on her campaign, or ran alongside her on the Democratic ticket credit Ossoff with sparking a progressive awakening in the 6th district—which has been solidly Republican for the last 40 years—with his 2017 bid for office. "Ossoff’s campaign built the infrastructure for what’s happening now," Amy Swygert, a former Ossoff volunteer, told me on Sunday.

Though McBath's race didn't receive the same degree of national attention as Ossoff's, she benefited from running amid a wave of first-time women candidates in a climate much more favorable to Democratic candidates. But many people believe the thing that pushed McBath to victory was the power of her personal experience. McBath ran her race not as a woman or an outsider candidate, but, first and foremost, as the mother of her son Jordan, who was killed in 2012 by a white man who opened fire on him and his friends at a Florida gas station.

"You have to bear your soul and figure out how your life experiences relate directly to what your potential constituents want from a leader in your district," Howard Franklin, a Georgia Democratic strategist, told me ahead of McBath's win. "I think Lucy has done that."

Despite McBath's win, Georgia Democrats may not see the conclusive "blue wave" they'd been hoping for. Many of them had hoped to see progressive victories all the way up to the highest state-level office, yet Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams remains stuck in limbo in her battle to defeat opponent Brian Kemp. Abrams currently trails Kemp by 1.6 percentage points, and hopes uncounted provisional ballots could help make up the difference or prompt a runoff election.

“I feel like we’re chipping away, it’s just a big rock," Angela Taylor, a Georgia resident, told me at McBath's results party Tuesday night. "It’s a big boulder."