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Georgia 7th: Why Rob Woodall is feeling bullish about his House race


Story updated at 3:00 p.m. 

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall’s campaign doesn’t tweet. It rarely sends out press statements or widely advertises its district events, nor has it aired any television ads in the 7th Congressional District, a swath of Atlanta’s Northeastern suburbs that includes portions of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties. 

The Lawrenceville Republican’s low-key strategy has shifted little even as his Democratic opponent Carolyn Bourdeaux has received extra Washington attention and taken in boatloads of cash, raising her party’s hope that it can seriously compete in the once deep red bastion. 

Woodall’s campaign doesn’t see that as a gamble. It has long pointed to May’s primary vote totals as one of the reasons why it isn’t worried about what’s to come in November. And a new internal poll underwritten by his camp further suggests why it feels like it’s sitting comfortably heading into the race’s final stretch. 

The poll of 400 likely voters gives Woodall a 27-point lead over Bourdeaux, 59 percent to 32 percent, with 9 percent of voters undecided. Conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates, the survey shows that most local voters either didn’t know who Bourdeaux was or had no opinion of her. President Trump scored relatively high marks, with 60 percent of voters approving of him, and 54 percent said they were happy with Woodall’s performance in Washington. 

The survey comes in stark contrast to the Bourdeaux team’s internal poll from August, which showed the race neck-and-neck and Trump’s approval underwater. National media handicappers, meanwhile, have rated the contest as increasingly competitive but still leaning toward the GOP.

All internal polls should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re leaked by campaigns to show their candidates in a favorable light. But with so little polling data available in the 7th District, the numbers are still worth noting.

Woodall hasn’t faced a serious challenger since he won his seat in 2010. He cruised to reelection in 2016 by 21 percentage points, and Trump carried the district over Hillary Clinton, 51 percent to 45 percent.  

There has been some growing chatter in Washington that the 7th could be a sleeper race for the Democrats given sustained political energy on the left and Woodall’s relatively weak fundraising numbers (Bourdeaux outraised him more than three to one between July and October). But Super PACs and the national parties have largely stayed out of the contest financially, choosing to pour their money into other competitive races. 

The Bourdeaux campaign was dismissive of Woodall’s internal poll on Saturday. 

“Woodall’s pollster is the same one that said Eric Cantor would win by 34, and he lost by 11. What we’re seeing in our polling, in early vote numbers, and on the ground suggests that, heaven forbid, Sean Hannity was right for once when he called this race a dead heat,” said Spencer Smith, Bourdeaux’s campaign manager.

On the campaign trail, Woodall is relentlessly sunny. The four-term lawmaker talks about the booming economy, transportation policy and constituent service, while rarely mentioning his opponent by name. He isn’t shy to bring up Trump but is loathe to discuss some of the president’s coarser comments. 

Bourdeaux’s team sees an opening given the district’s educated and increasingly diverse population, particularly in Gwinnett, which narrowly backed Clinton in 2016. The Georgia State University professor has focused her campaign messaging on health care and has also hit Woodall for sticking too close to the president on immigration


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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.