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Swing Districts: Romney won in Atlanta suburb, but so did a Democrat

Georgia isn’t blue or red. Vast portions of the state, from peanut country in rural South Georgia to the fast-growing Atlanta suburbs, are a purply stew.

And those sections — call them the swingiest of Georgia’s swing districts — could decide not only the state’s tight presidential race but also the elections down the ballot.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution visited five state House districts scattered across Georgia where the race for the White House seems the tightest.

One of them is District 80, which has all the markings of a reliably Republican district except it’s represented in the state House by a Democrat who capitalized on opposition to “religious liberty” legislation.

BROOKHAVEN — By most political metrics, House District 80 should not be competitive.

The suburban Atlanta district, famous for its shopping and traffic, has a voting-age population that is more than 85 percent white. Voters here backed Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, and Republicans David Perdue and Nathan Deal for U.S. senator and governor, respectively, two years ago.

All of which appears to make Taylor Bennett the accidental incumbent.

Bennett, a Democrat, won the state House District 80 seat in a special election in 2015 after Republican Mike Jacobs resigned to take a judgeship. Bennett defeated Brookhaven’s former mayor, J. Max Davis, 55 percent to 45 percent in an August runoff after finishing first in a four-way race.

Bennett campaigned on a promise to fight the “religious liberty” bills that conservatives in the General Assembly pursued, and he noted that it was Jacobs who helped stop the measure late in the 2015 legislative session.

Now, the former Georgia Tech football star is looking to hold onto the seat against Republican Meagan Hanson. Both say they would oppose “religious liberty” bills if elected.

Loren Collins ran for the seat as a Republican in the July 2015 special election, finishing fourth. Today, he’s backing the Democrat.

When it comes to the presidential race, Collins repeats a thought many here expressed when asked about the campaign: “My main interest, however I vote, is I don’t want to see Donald Trump win.”

But Collins, an attorney, doesn’t know that he can vote for Hillary Clinton, either.

Chris Lynch of Sandy Springs, part of which is also in District 80, feels the same way. Shopping one day last week with his son, Michael, Lynch said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote.

“I don’t like either of my choices, honestly,” the financial consultant said, adding that he hopes Republicans maintain control of Congress.

He’s worried about the economy. His clients are hurting, he said, as shareholders and investors struggle with the slow growth of the economy.

“Business is not good,” Lynch said.

Hannah Amoah of Brookhaven has no problem declaring her intentions to vote for Clinton.

“It’s an easy choice,” she said.

But she’s not a big Clinton fan.

“I don’t love her at all, but the alternative is so awful I can’t sit back and let it happen,” Amoah, a lawyer, said as she sat outside a Brookhaven cafe with her dog, Booker T.

Across the green space at Town Brookhaven, the upscale shopping and dining center near City Hall, Kelsey Rist is Amoah’s counterweight in the election.

“I’m on the Trump train for sure,” Rist said.

Rist, a recent graduate of Ole Miss, declared herself a feminist and said she has no problem reconciling that with her decision to back Trump.

“Feminism is so simple,” she said. “You want equality for men and women. More people are feminists and don’t even know it. (Trump) said some things that are not OK. But Hillary has done bad things, too. He has changed as a person.”

Other swing districts:

To learn about Jimmy Carter’s home district, where there’s plenty of voters unhappy with their choices, click here.

To learn about a Middle Georgia district that President Barack Obama won by a whisker in 2012 and is now represented by the lone independent in the Georgia Legislature, click here.

To learn about a majority-black district in southwest Georgia that, against all odds, sends a conservative Republican back to the statehouse every two years, click here.

To learn about a Gwinnett County district with a shift in demographics could be matched by a shift in politics, click here.

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