Lucy McBath effectively put her Georgia state House race on hold when she got the news of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. “We had to be there for these children,” she told me over coffee at an Emily’s List conference last week.
McBath lost her own child, Jordan Davis, to gun violence in 2012, when a white man who didn’t like the music Jordan and his friends were playing shot him through an open car window at close range. His killer, Michael Dunn, invoked Florida’s stand-your-ground law in defense during trial. Devastated, McBath worked to keep the media from tarnishing her extraordinary son the way so many other young black victims have been diminished in death. After a mistrial, Dunn was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. McBath has been organizing, in some fashion, to be there for “these children”—from Jordan, to the first-graders of Newtown, to the Parkland survivors—ever since.
McBath helped plan the March for Our Lives last month and organized a prayer vigil at Washington’s National Cathedral the night before. Sometime during that whirlwind, she developed a new plan: She would run for the House of Representatives in Georgia’s sixth district against first-term GOP Representative Karen Handel. Lucy McBath decided to move from a small state House race where she’d already raised more than $100,000 and was given a decent chance to win, to contest a US House seat that was the most expensive in history last year, when newcomer Jon Ossoff tried to become the first Democrat to represent the district in 40 years and narrowly lost in a special election.
Handel is sitting on almost $1 million, and two of McBath’s three male Democratic rivals have written their campaigns big checks. McBath, by contrast, had to return all the money she’d raised for the state House seat and start over. She is also starting late; the primary is May 22. Two of her primary opponents have gained some traction in the activist community: Former local CBS news anchor Bobby Kaple is running on “affordable, accessible health care,” while Kevin Abel, a businessman and a South African immigrant who is Jewish, has attacked Donald Trump’s treatment of DACA kids and other immigrants. Having raised less than $50,000 so far, McBath is an underdog in every sense of the word, but she is also Lucy McBath, a nationally known activist and the only woman in a Democratic primary that will be decided by women. In the sixth district, roughly 60 percent of likely Democratic voters are women, and a quarter are people of color. McBath sees a path to victory, despite her late start.
But money isn’t McBath’s only obstacle. There are Democrats in her district who are upset that she walked away from her state House race, leaving the party scrambling to find a candidate. One likely supporter told me the busy McBath is alienating some potential backers by skipping many local candidate forums, which lends an impression she’s a national figure who thinks her name recognition will boost her over lesser-known Democrats. “It might not,” this person says. “We’ve had so many requests it’s unreal, and we’re incredibly grateful,” campaign manager Rebecca Walldorff responds. “We’ll do as many as we can.”