Democrats pick up three seats in Georgia legislative races

Democrats picked up three state legislative seats Tuesday in special elections set up by lawmakers leaving office to take new jobs.

Deborah Gonzalez bested Houston Gaines to represent the Athens area, replacing Athens Republican Regina Quick, who was appointed to a judgeship in August.

A four-way race to replace Republican Chuck Williams in the House went to first-time Democratic candidate Jonathan Wallace. Williams was appointed in August to head the Georgia Forestry Commission.

And two Democrats, Jaha Howard and Jen Jordan, will face each other in a runoff election next month to replace former Republican Sen. Hunter Hill. Hill was first elected in 2012, defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Stoner in a newly redrawn district.

Georgia Democrats hoped to chip away at the overwhelming Republican majority in the General Assembly, running candidates in each race. The move is unusual for a party that doesn’t typically run opposition in the state’s more conservative districts.

Republicans, meanwhile, were working hard to hold onto their seats in the Legislature.

Going into Tuesday’s elections, the GOP held a 118-62 majority in the state House and 38-18 lead in the Georgia Senate.

In metro Atlanta, several candidates stepped up to fill the seats vacated in the Senate by Hill and Vincent Fort, and former Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in the House. The number of candidates likely sets up each race for Dec. 5 runoff elections between the top two vote-getters.

Democrats see an opportunity to take back the seat held by Hill, who quit to run for governor. Howard, who finished second in Tuesday’s election, lost to the Republican incumbent last year by about 4 percentage points.

The socio-economically diverse district stretches from Smyrna to parts of Buckhead and has a pretty even mix of residents affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties, candidates said. Residents in the district that straddles Cobb and Fulton counties will be looking to whoever is elected to bolster education and decrease traffic, candidates said.

Democrats will definitely keep three more seats that were up for grabs Tuesday.

Nikema Williams and Linda Pritchett, both Democrats, will face each other in a runoff next month for the seat Fort left vacant to run for Atlanta mayor. The long predominately black district spans an economically diverse string of neighborhoods from Buckhead to south Fulton.

Democrats Bee Nguyen and Sachin Varghese will go head to head in a runoff election to replace Abrams. The Atlanta Democrat vacated her seat to run for governor. No Republican qualified to run.

Residents in the district that’s home to neighborhoods including East Atlanta, Gresham Park and Cedar Grove said they want to make sure their new representative encourages “smart” development and quality public education.

Former Rep. Keisha Waites left office to run for Fulton County Commission chair. De’Andre Pickett and Kim Schofield, both Democrats, will take part in a runoff election to replace Waites in the House representing the district that includes parts of Atlanta, Hapeville and College Park.

Elsewhere in Georgia, Republicans entered Tuesday’s elections confident heading into Tuesday’s elections that they would retain the seats they already held.

Republican Forsyth County businessman Marc Morris took the House seat formerly held by Geoff Duncan, who gave up to the post to run for lieutenant governor.

In Whitfield County, Republican restaurant owner Kasey Carpenter beat three other hopefuls to fill the House seat Bruce Broadrick, a Dalton Republican, vacated in September, citing health issues.

Democrats were assured of keeping one Cobb County seat.

Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna city councilwoman, was the only candidate to step up to replace Stacey Evans, who gave up her House seat to run for governor.

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