Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Georgia’s newly drawn 7th Congressional District is set to decide which one of two incumbent Democrats will likely go on to win the November general election in the solidly blue district. The district, which encompasses Gwinnett County and areas to the northeast of Atlanta, is also garnering attention from Israel-related national groups.
The two leading candidates, current Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA) and Lucy McBath (D-GA), have served in Congress for one and two terms, respectively. They have voted together 99% of the time in this Congress. Unlike Michigan’s 11th Congressional District and Illinois’ 6th District, where differences over approaches to Israel have taken center stage, the two legislators are largely aligned when it comes to Israel.
In an inversion of usual patterns, McBath — who has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — has been endorsed by Democratic Majority for Israel and AIPAC. The freshman Bourdeaux — a Blue Dog who teamed up with a group of centrist insurgents led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) during the debate over the infrastructure bill and Build Back Better package last year — is being backed by J Street, which also endorsed her in 2020. Both candidates were supported by DMFI in 2020.
Bourdeaux currently represents the 7th District and McBath the 6th. Redistricting shifted Bourdeaux’s district from a swing seat to safely Democratic and McBath’s to safely Republican, leading McBath to shift her focus to the 7th.
“We have had a close relationship with Congresswoman McBath since her election to Congress, and she has clearly demonstrated her strong support for the U.S.-Israel relationship during her entire tenure in the House,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann explained to Jewish Insider.
McBath joined the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation’s Israel trip during her first term in August 2019. Anti-war group CodePink subsequently filed an ethics complaint targeting McBath and others who joined the trip, alleging that the AIEF trips are unconstitutional.
Jeanney Kutner, a member of J Street’s local steering committee in Atlanta, told JI that J Street’s repeated attempts to engage with McBath have not had much success.
“I have worked very hard with Congresswoman McBath and her staff before — but not in this cycle — for her to go to Israel with J Street, to fill out our [endorsement] form, to look at our position papers,” Kutner told JI. “And I never could get anybody’s attention.”
Bourdeaux frequently meets with J Street representatives, Kutner noted.
DMFI did not respond to a request for comment. DMFI PAC President Mark Mellman said in a statement on Thursday, when the group announced its late-stage endorsements of McBath and, in the 13th District, Rep. David Scott (D-GA), that the two “have proven to be formidable leaders in Georgia and have gone above and beyond to advance the Democratic agenda in Congress” and “are both strong supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
McBath has pulled in a total of $4.3 million as of May 4 to Bourdeaux’s $3.1 million, significantly outpacing a third candidate in the race, state Rep. Donna McLeod, who has raised $62,000. There has not been independent polling on the race, but McBath has said her internal polling shows her ahead.
An individual familiar with the matter told JI that pro-Israel donors have contributed nearly $100,000 to McBath this cycle. McBath has also benefited from a $1 million TV ad buy from the Michael Bloomberg-backed gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, more than $1 million in outside spending from Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC and $1.9 million in outside spending from the Protect our Future PAC, backed by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. McBath endorsed Bloomberg’s presidential campaign in 2020.
“Both Congresswoman McBath and Congresswoman Bourdeaux have really great relationships with the Jewish communities,” Dov Wilker, the American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta regional director, told JI. “Speaking to donors of both their campaigns and people who have supported them both in the past, there’s a great sadness to the fact that they have to run against each other… We’re going to lose a strong member of Congress from the state of Georgia.”
While the Atlanta metro area has a large Jewish community, the community within the district itself is small, according to Wilker.
McBath, Wilker said, “has been a stalwart supporter of Israel and the Jewish community; she’s had strong connections with local synagogues and with AJC,” as well as being a member of the Congressional Caucus for Black-Jewish Relations. Bourdeaux has a personal connection to the Jewish community — her husband is Jewish and her son attends Sunday school at a local synagogue.
“[McBath] has always been attentive and responsive to our needs and the issues facing the community,” he continued. “And Representative Bourdeaux has been the exact same way… They’ve both really been tremendous advocates and people to work alongside in the work that we have.”
During this session of Congress, both lawmakers co-sponsored the Israel Relations Normalization Act and voted in favor of supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Both also signed a bipartisan letter supporting full, unconditioned aid to Israel.
Bourdeaux also signed a letter to President Joe Biden with a bipartisan group of House members asking that he specifically request supplemental funding for Iron Dome as part of the appropriations process late last year, while that funding was stalled in the Senate. McBath did not sign that letter.
One point of some divergence between the two was in their responses to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas last May.
McBath said in a statement at the time that “the violence targeted at everyday families must stop” and “Israel has a right to defend itself and its allies,” adding that she was “praying this comes to a peaceful resolution.”
In her own statement, Bourdeaux emphasized that “families are suffering on both sides,” said “both sides must reduce the escalation and work constructively together to move towards a peaceful resolution” and condemned both planned evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Hamas’ attacks.
Bourdeaux has not joined one of J Street’s top legislative initiatives, Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-MI) Two State Solution Act, which would bar Israel from using U.S. aid to annex Palestinian territory or violate human rights.
J Street’s Kutner told JI that, whenever the group asks Bourdeaux to support legislation or congressional letters, she offers “a thorough, thoughtful answer — she wouldn’t just knee-jerk about anything.”
The University of Georgia’s Bullock told JI that, although Bourdeaux represents more of the new 7th District than McBath, McBath’s name recognition may be higher, given the volume of advertisements supporting her, both in this cycle and in her 2018 and 2020 campaigns, that have aired in the metro Atlanta area.
Bullock added that McLeod, the state representative who represents around 6% of the district, could force McBath and Bourdeaux into a runoff if both incumbents are competitive. Georgia law mandates a runoff unless one candidate gains more than 50% of the vote.
“My hunch… is that if one of the candidates wins without a runoff, it would be McBath who went up on TV earlier, has had more TV presence and has a more compelling story,” Bullock added.