AJC: U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn campaigns for Bourdeaux at Gwinnett church

A group of African-American voters were up bright and early Monday morning to see U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and congressional candidate Carolyn Bourdeaux speak at Poplar Hill Baptist Church in Buford.

Clyburn, the third-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives and a top deputy of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, traveled to Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District to campaign for Bourdeaux, the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.

The longtime South Carolina congressman cited Bourdeaux’s academic background as a prime qualification for office. Bourdeaux is a Georgia State University professor whose research is focused on government finance and budgets.

“Her experience is one I would love to have sitting in the chamber,” Clyburn said. 

Democrats have their eye on the 7th District, which encompasses most of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put the district on its “Red to Blue” list, indicating it believes Bourdeaux has a realistic chance of unseating the four-term Republican incumbent. Former President Barack Obama also backed Bourdeaux in his second round of midterm endorsements. 

An increasingly racially diverse and Democratic-voting Gwinnett — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the county by six percentage points, though losing Georgia by the same amount — coupled with President Donald Trump’s low approval numbers in metro Atlanta have bolstered Democrats’ optimism about flipping the 7th district. 

Woodall’s campaign has remained relatively low-key in the months leading up to the election. The incumbent has cited high Republican turnout in May’s primary, his work on constituent service and a high name recognition as key advantages leading him to feel comfortable going into election day.

The most recent poll of the race, conducted independently by JMC Analytics and Bold Blue Campaigns, put Woodall ahead by 6 percentage points. Woodall’s campaign underwrote a poll earlier this month showing the congressman with a 27-point lead.

At Poplar Hill, Clyburn said he’s looked at the numbers himself and sees an opportunity for black voters to make a difference.

“I’ve studied this congressional district. There are more than 17,000 African-American voters who have not voted in the past two off-year elections,” Clyburn said. “... This election will be decided by a lot less than 17,000 votes. Those 17,000 could be a determining factor in the outcome of this election.”

Bourdeaux’s remarks focused on Medicaid expansion and affordable health care, a central issue in her campaign. She told the crowd a story relayed to her by Gwinnett County doctors of a laborer who came to them in crippling pain due to untreated rheumatoid arthritis. Because he could not afford health insurance and did not qualify for Medicaid, the condition had gone untreated; the man could only get Medicaid once the condition was so severe that he could no longer work and qualified for disability benefits, she said. 

“People like that do not deserve the way they are treated in this country,” Bourdeaux said.

Woodall has voted multiple times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he has described as an inflexible “one-size-fits-all policy” that has led to skyrocketing premiums for patients. He focuses more heavily on recent tax and transportation legislation in his campaign messaging. 

Before Clyburn and Bourdeaux spoke in the sanctuary, supporters and local Democratic activists shared donuts and coffee in the church basement. 

Renea Pierre, who moved to Buford a year ago, made sure to stop in before attending a 9 a.m. Buford City Schools board of education meeting. She’s wanted to get more informed about local politics since her move, but was motivated further after the Buford school superintendent was allegedly caught on tape using racial slurs

“A lot of things that happen are not in favor of all people. We have to be part of the solution,” Pierre said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be part of the solution.”

After the event, many in attendance went to Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, where a satellite voting location opened Saturday. Rev. Dennis Washington, an associate minister at Poplar Hill, stressed the importance of voting to the audience.

“Don’t let anyone give you the idea that you don’t have a stake in this,” Washington said. “We want you not just today, but every day until Nov. 6 to push this. We have a mandate, and that is: We need change.” 

Jake Best