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Georgia's 6th District Is Changing Fast, But That Doesn't Mean Democrats Can Flip It


I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Atlanta, broadcasting today from our member station WABE. We're going to check in now on the congressional district that holds the record most expensive House race in U.S. history - Georgia's 6th District. And that record, more than $55 million spent, was set last year in a special election. Republican Karen Handel won that special election. On Tuesday, she's looking to repeat.


KAREN HANDEL: In Congress, the very first bill that I co-sponsored was a bill to help combat human trafficking.

KELLY: Running against Handel is Democrat Lucy McBath, who has never held elected office and who in her campaign ads gets personal.


LUCY MCBATH: I lost my son Jordan, but I'm still his mother. I still continue to mother him through making sure that I preserve the lives of other children like him.

KELLY: Lucy McBath - her son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed at age 17. McBath has since focused on pushing for stricter gun laws. Karen Handel, by contrast, is endorsed by the NRA. Now, this is Republican turf. This is Newt Gingrich's old district. But Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University here in Atlanta, told me the 6th District is changing fast.

ANDRA GILLESPIE: It's still majority white, but the demographics of the district are changing.

KELLY: In what way?

GILLESPIE: So we're seeing more minorities move into the district. But, you know, it's kind of, you know, the bedroom community where lots of professionals and their families live.

KELLY: More minorities moving in - that would be - who? - African-Americans, Latinos? Who's moving in?


KELLY: That's a trend underway in a lot of America's big-city suburbs. And those incoming minorities can flip historically red districts to blue. But Gillespie is not persuaded the demographics are changing fast enough for this red district to flip, at least not if last year's special election is an indication.

GILLESPIE: It really is a question of turnout. And the lesson of 2017 was you can do all that you can from a resource standpoint to try to mobilize as many Democrats in the district to turn out to vote, and your ceiling may be 48 percent because the district is 48 percent Democratic.

KELLY: So the question is then how many years out are you looking at maybe seeing a tipping point? Is this the year or not?

GILLESPIE: So that's a question. But then there's also sort of the question of mobilization. And so if this were a year where you saw Democrats were more enthusiastic and more interested in the race and following politics more than Republicans, then perhaps you could actually see a Democratic flip. If we see parity in terms of enthusiasm and if we see parity in terms of turnout, the fundamentals of the race still privilege Karen Handel.

KELLY: So it sounds like your sense is that the 6th District is changing and changing really fast from what was a reliable Republican district for - since forever but maybe not quite ready to flip this year. Is that what the polls are showing?

GILLESPIE: I would say that the 6th District is a district that is in the process of changing and that those changes may not happen fast enough for this district to still not be a Republican-leaning district in 2018.

KELLY: What other factors might be in play? I'm thinking, for example, this is the first national election of the #MeToo era. And a lot of women watched the Kavanaugh hearings play out in Washington and felt deeply conflicted over the state of the country. And this is their chance to go out and vote.

GILLESPIE: So, I mean, we'll have to see what women do in this district, particularly college-educated white women. Do they vote party, especially if they've been accustomed to voting for the Republican Party, or do they stay home because they are conflicted? If they stay home because they are conflicted, then that boosts Lucy McBath's chances. But, I mean, I think that the biggest question for the college-educated women in this district is - particularly white ones is whether or not they actually show up to vote at all.

KELLY: Professor Gillespie, thank you.

GILLESPIE: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Andra Gillespie, professor of political science at Emory University here in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.