Between Georgia's fast-changing demographics, the latest redistricting mess and a vicious presidential campaign, a hefty number of up-in-the-air races and open seats have local pollsters scratching their heads and party leaders popping Rolaids. At CL, we researched the most competitive races inside and not-too-far outside the Perimeter to determine our endorsements.
If you don't see a race in your district, that's probably because it's uncontested or because the winner faces only token opposition, having effectively won the seat during the primaries.In the Senate, both parties are vying to dominate the competitive districts in Atlanta's inner suburbs. The outcome will go a long way toward determining whether Democrats regain control of the chamber.
Senate District 6
Even some of GOP incumbent Ginger Collins' party-mates privately concede she's not as sharp or capable as Democrat Doug Stoner, 39, a two-term state House member with strong ties to the local business community. That no-confidence vote, coupled with the fact that the Smyrna-based district has a slight Democratic lean, gives Stoner a deserved edge.
Senate District 33
Also in south Cobb, this district has an ever-shrinking Democratic majority. Eventually, the seat may go Republican, but this year it won't -- and shouldn't. Democrat Steve Thompson is about as entrenched as an incumbent can be. One of the most informed and effective members of the Senate, he's chaired the powerful Transportation Committee and served as one of Gov. Roy Barnes' floor leaders until the GOP takeover. His opponent, Bill Sanders, a former state rep from Spalding County, has milked this spring's mini-scandal involving Thompson's recommendation of a female friend for a state university job, but we're betting Thompson returns to the job he knows quite well.
Senate District 41
In a district that overlaps the DeKalb/Gwinnett line, Democratic incumbent Steve Henson faces Republican Joe Burton, who had served many years in the House and Senate before getting drawn out of his old Senate seat in 2001. Now, at 81, Burton wants to make a comeback but has chosen to squander his name recognition against a popular opponent in a Democratic district. We recommend voters ease Burton into retirement.
On the House side, metro Atlanta is chock-full of uncertain races that will help determine whether Republicans gain control of the chamber for the first time ever.
House District 34
In this 50/50 district in south Cobb, incumbent Rich Golick, a GOP backbencher, is facing a strong challenge from Vic Yankouski, a perennial Democratic candidate who's run for four other offices since the late '80s. Golick's a bright, young moderate who might help steer the Republican caucus away from nutty extremism.
House District 37
Another evenly divided venue is this Marietta district, where former Rep. Terry Johnson, a Democrat, takes on newbie Cindye Coates, an evangelical minister and former Falcons cheerleader who touts herself as being "pro-faith, pro-life, pro-family." A quotation from her website claims, as if it were a selling point, that "women like Cindye Coates are the ACLU's worst nightmare." That's good enough for us to dis' her -- and it should be good enough for voters who don't feel like being represented by a right-wing nutjob.
This Marietta district pits two-term Democrat Pat Dooley against attorney Steve "Thunder" Tumlin, a lifelong Democrat-just-turned-Republican. Dooley, an environmental and neighborhood activist with a modest legislative record, is seen as vulnerable. Tumlin, a past president of the Marietta School Board with a strong history of civic involvement, is about as well connected as a candidate can get. But his campaign's focus on gay marriage is either opportunistic or just plain wrongheaded, so we'll stick with Dooley.
House District 39
In south Cobb, which has a large African-American population, Alisha Thomas Morgan -- one of two black members of the Cobb delegation -- is running for re-election against Chris Bouchard, an actor in dinner theater productions and industrial films. Bouchard isn't a hardliner on gay rights, but he seems to tow the GOP line on other issues and is strongly anti-abortion. Morgan, a social-service worker who has already notched several awards and honors from progressive groups despite having just turned 27, is one of the young stars of her party. She's a much better fit for the district.
House District 80
One of the GOP's targeted House seats is in north DeKalb just inside the Perimeter. There, we've got two young attorneys running neck-and-neck: Democrat Mike Jacobs, 29, and Republican J. Max Davis Jr., 34. If Davis' name sounds familiar, it's because his late father served in the House for 22 years. Junior's main plank is property tax relief, but he otherwise seems to have few strong legislative ideas. Jacobs, a tireless campaigner and certified "golden boy" of DeKalb Democrats, cites transportation alternatives among his top priorities. Roundly touted as a star, Jacobs gets our vote.
House District 81
Call us a bunch of wimps. We can't settle on a clear favorite in this mid-DeKalb battle, where GOP incumbent Jill Chambers is struggling to hang on in a marginally Democratic district against a challenge from attorney Eric Ponder. Chambers' primary claim to fame is that she was the sole Republican to vote against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a gutsy move that's earned her the endorsement of Georgia Equality. While Ponder is a somewhat lackluster campaigner, he's interested in exploring transportation alternatives in the traffic-clogged district and making sure DeKalb-Peachtree Airport plays by the rules. Basically, if you're worried about the GOP gaining control of the House, then cast your ballot for Ponder. If you appreciate Chambers' fairly libertarian outlook, then vote for her.
House District 82
Perhaps the most-watched local race is in the district that straddles I-285 between LaVista Road and I-85. The match-up is between political legacy and Democrat Kevin Levitas, and former state Rep. Paul Jennings, a Republican. Levitas, a former DeKalb county prosecutor, is the 39-year-old son of popular, late Congressman Elliott Levitas. Jennings, a retired banker and well-liked community leader, served two terms in the House before being drawn out of his district two years ago. Both candidates are moderates -- as befits a 50/50 district -- are thoughtful and have similar legislative concerns. But, although he's not strident on these issues, Jennings is pro-life and favors the pending gay-marriage amendment. While Levitas has less political experience, he's sharp and well-informed; he has both a law enforcement and small-business background, and would be a more progressive lawmaker.