Identity

Two of Georgia's Most Anticipated Races Left Hanging in the Balance

Congressional candidate Lucy McBath and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams concluded their results parties early Wednesday morning with no definitive results in their races.

by Marie Solis
Nov 7 2018, 3:58pm

As of early Wednesday morning, Lucy McBath’s race in Georgia’s 6th congressional district wasn’t over. Around 12:40 AM, McBath, who is—still—running to unseat Republican incumbent Karen Handel, appeared onstage at her results party to address a crowd that had, over several hours, thinned from a few hundred to a room of around 70 exhausted but dedicated supporters.

“It’s been a long night,” McBath said, after cheers of “flip the 6th!” quieted. “But it’s not over yet. This is a very, very close race. ... It appears clear that the election in the 6th congressional district will not be decided this evening.”

The audience groaned. The night had begun on a high: When I arrived at McBath’s results party, held in a small ballroom in the Westin Atlanta around 8 PM, McBath’s supporters were in good spirits. Two women in the front of the room broke into dance as a DJ played “Play That Funky Music,” pausing the song in certain spots for the crowd to sing along. Others wove through the crowd to meet friends, balancing drinks from the bar and plates full of buffalo wings and beef sliders.

“In 2016 I was politically aware, but only with people who knew me—not to the world,” Terri Polk, who had brought her 13-year-old son Grant to the results party, told me. “Now I don’t care! I spent today knocking on 70 doors for Lucy.”

A group of teens from Students Demand Action, a branch of Everytown for Gun Safety, were gathered together at one table in the middle of the room, vibrating with excitement at the prospect of having an advocate for gun control representing the district. McBath has made gun safety the core of her insurgent campaign, a platform she backs up with personal experience: Her son Jordan was killed at 17 when a white man opened fire on him and his friends at a gas station because he said they were playing music too loudly.

“Having a candidate like Lucy to stand up for Georgians everywhere is going to signal a paradigm shift for how we treat gun violence,”John Peterson, 17, said. “It’s no longer going to be something we’re just going to tacitly accept.” Jessica Tabickman, another 17-year-old from the group, was refreshing the results on an iPhone with a smashed screen, which she tilted toward me so I could see. “Gun safety is a nonpartisan issue,” she added. “So I think we can flip a state like Georgia.”

Teenagers from Students Demand Action gathered around a phone to check election results.

Some were more cautious in their optimism. Two women near the back of the room told me it was just over one year ago when they’d gathered in the ballroom across the hall for Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate who failed to flip the 6th congressional seat in the 2017 special election against Handel. “We were very disappointed,” Angela Taylor, a former volunteer for the Ossoff campaign, told me. “But before him this district was mainly Republican, and we shattered that ceiling. He showed people this district isn’t a sure bet anymore.”

McBath supporters had to leave the 2018 Democratic nominee’s party without knowing if they’d shattered another ceiling. At another Atlanta hotel across town, the outcome of gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ race against Republican Brian Kemp also remained uncertain: The opponents had just over two points between them, and Abrams hadn’t conceded. McBath told the crowd it would be three or four days before voters would see definitive results in her race; Abrams' could drag on until December, when voters would go to the polls again to cast their ballots in a run-off election.

Georgia's two most high-profile races had ended in anticlimax.

Two women broke out into dance at McBath's election results party Tuesday night.
Two women broke out into dance at McBath's election results party Tuesday night. (Lynsey Weatherspoon)

Given the nationwide results for Democrats, it seemed almost appropriate. Instead of engulfing the country in a cerulean blue wave, Democrats picked up the seats they needed to regain control of the House, but lost key battles that would have suggested a more definitive rejection of President Donald Trump and his party: Beto O'Rourke fell to Texas Senator Ted Cruz; Andrew Gillum conceded to Florida Governor Rick Perry; and abolish ICE proponent Randy Bryce lost to Republican Bryan Steil, who will take over House Speaker Paul Ryan's outgoing seat.

McBath and Abrams, however, face somewhat unique circumstances. In the weeks leading up the midterms, Kemp, in his role as secretary of state, helmed a systematic effort to stop thousands of voters from accessing the ballot box. What's more, some 16-year-old electronic voting machines had been known to glitch and switch voters' selections, while others, poll workers discovered Tuesday morning, didn't work at all.

"I'm here to tell you tonight votes remain to be counted."

The women's separate messages to their supporters Wednesday morning were united: They were going to make sure every vote was tallied.

"Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it. When we demand it," Abrams told the crowd at her results party around 2 AM. "I'm here to tell you tonight votes remain to be counted."

"We're looking forward over the next few days to have the voice of the remaining voters be heard," McBath said.

By 10:30 AM Wednesday morning, McBath went from trailing Handel by fewer than 60 votes in a 50-50 split, to pulling ahead by more than 2,000. Sources tell me election officials are still counting votes. But her supporters didn't know about McBath's lead when they left the Westin three hours earlier. "It's better to leave on this note than on a concession," Amie Inman, a McBath volunteer, told me.

As I headed out to the parking lot, I overheard a group of three friends making plans to take off from McBath's and jet to Abrams'.

"I don't think I'm ever going to stop hoping," Tsion Abera, 23, told me as she stepped into a white SUV. "It's not the end 'til it's the end."