Whomever wins the July 24 runoff (early voting began July 2) will contest the November 7 general election against Republican Karen Handel, who has served one year in the House of Representatives after defeating Ossoff in a special election in June 2017.
“It’s an uphill climb” was the assessment from one among 225 people who attended a June 27 forum featuring Abel and McBath at the Weber School, sponsored by the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon and moderated by political reporter Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Neither has anything close to the money that backed Ossoff in the most expensive House race ever.
And the 41,603 votes cast in the March 20 Democratic primary (in which McBath finished first and Abel second out of four candidate) totaled only one-third of what Ossoff received in his loss to Handel.
The 6th District includes portions of eastern Cobb County, northern Fulton County and northern DeKalb County.
It has the highest percentage of Jewish residents among Georgia’s 14 congressional districts and is home to more than 40 percent of metro Atlanta’s Jews.
President Donald Trump narrowly carried the district over Hillary Clinton in 2016, 48 percent to 47 percent.
“This is a Republican leaning district. We need a Democratic candidate who can turn out not just Democratic votes, but win independent voters and independent-minded Republican voters as well,” said Abel, an Alpharetta resident and co-founder, with his wife, of Abel Solutions, a technology consulting company. “I am the candidate who can win these votes that are needed to flip the district. . . I am the candidate who can beat Karen Handel in the fall.”
McBath, who lives in Marietta, had intended to seek a seat in the Georgia House, but changed her focus after the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.
She became a gun control activist after her 17-year-old son was shot to death in November 2012 by a man angered at the volume of music coming from a car in which the teen was sitting at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station.
“I would never have imagined standing here in front of you tonight,” she said.
When her son was killed, “Everything I knew about my life changed,” said McBath, who worked for Delta Airlines for 30 years, as a flight attendant. “Everything I’ve gone through has prepared me for this moment.”
“What I have is credibility and a reality of experiences that speaks to the crucial and the critical conflicts, and crises, and visions that you are making in your own families,” McBath, who is active at Seven Springs Church, in Powder Springs, said.
Abel and McBath aimed their rhetorical guns primarily at Handel and Trump.
Both decried the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, and criticized Handel – as she presided over the House chamber – for telling a Democratic member to stop playing audio of crying migrant children who had been separated from their parents.
Abel’s sensitivity is rooted in his having emigrated to the United States from South Africa with his family as a 14-year-old.
“The calculated, dispassionate separation of children from their parents . . . harkens back to the darkest days of our American history,” Abel said. “We are a great nation not because we’ve always been perfect, but because we always strived to be better, to live up to an ideal of what America is meant to represent.”
“I understand first hand what it’s like to have a family ripped apart,” McBath said. “That’s not who we are as Americans. That’s not the global image that we want our international partners and allies to see of us.”
Abel and McBath both favor a “two-state solution” to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, but disagree on Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel. . . I do support the move of the Embassy to Jerusalem. I just hope that this does not pre-signal any aspect of final status issues,” said Abel, a member of Temple Sinai.
“I oppose, at this time, the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, until a deal for peace has been brokered,” McBath said, adding that she considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital.
McBath said that her experience as a two-time survivor of breast cancer informs her stance on health care. “When I was diagnosed, not once, but two times, those were very critical times in my life when I was scared to death,” she said.
“I do advocate a robust public option for all of us,” McBath said of the debate over the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
She and Abel both support expanding access to Medicaid in Georgia.
“I firmly believe that health care is a right, and this being the richest nation on earth, no American should be one diagnosis away from losing their home or declaring bankruptcy,” Abel said. “As a cancer survivor myself, I know what it means to worry more about my medical bills than my diagnosis. This system is broken and I believe that the Affordable Care Act, while flawed, is the right framework for moving forward and moving us toward health care policy that works in this country.”
The candidates disagreed with the call by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., that Trump administration employees – such as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant – should be harassed publicly.
“As Democrats we are so upset and frustrated at what has happened to the civility in this nation. We lose if we start playing the game on their own terms. As Americans we have to lead the way to a better conversation, because the future of our country depends on it. This is not a game. This is deadly serious,” he said.
“We must always be vitally aware of how corrosive our speech can be,” McBath said. “I do not agree with public shaming,” repeating Michelle Obama’s admonition that “When they go low, we go high.”
Both sidestepped the issue of whether Trump should be impeached, saying that if elected they would face that issue if it moves forward.
Asked how they would work across party lines, Abel referenced his experience dealing with employees, customers and vendors. “We don’t always agree on everything. . . . But we come to the table because we have a common goal,” he said.
“Congress is not a business, but the concepts are the same. We’re people with different viewpoints, honest differences in our viewpoints about how we approach policy. Republicans are not bad people. They just see policy from a different angle,” Abel said.
“I am a woman and we are problem solvers,” McBath said. “We do it every single day.” She touted her experience working with Republicans, both in Georgia and in Congress, “to find common sense solutions to gun violence.”