Georgia voters to pick short-term successor to the late Rep. John Lewis

Special election does not feature either major-party candidate for the full term

Georgia’s 5th District hosts a special election Tuesday to pick a successor to the late Rep. John Lewis, who died in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Georgia’s 5th District hosts a special election Tuesday to pick a successor to the late Rep. John Lewis, who died in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 28, 2020 at 6:00am

Seven candidates are vying for a chance to spend three months — or less — in Congress in the special election Tuesday in Georgia’s 5th District to fill the remainder of the late civil rights icon John Lewis’ term. 

The candidates for the deep-blue, Atlanta-based seat include several Georgia political veterans, but they do not include the two major-party nominees running on the November ballot for the full term that starts in January. After Lewis’ death in July, the executive committee of the state Democratic Party chose party chairwoman and state Sen. Nikema Williams as their nominee to face Republican Angela Stanton-King, who was unopposed in the June 9 primary. 

Five Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent filed to run in the special election. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a Dec.1 runoff would be held for the top two finishers.

Williams has said she decided against running in the special election to focus on November and to take care of her family during the pandemic. 

A handful of the candidates have nevertheless pulled in tens of thousands of dollars for a race that could raise their profiles and place them in Washington during the lame-duck session of one of the most tumultuous periods of American politics in recent history. 

Former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin is the top fundraiser, with $106,000 raised through Sept. 9, including a $20,000 loan the Democrat made to his campaign. He had spent $60,000 of that as of Sept. 9, with money going toward polling and yard signs and other trappings of a more traditional campaign. 

Franklin, who now teaches theology at Emory University, told The Atlanta Journal- Constitution that he was motivated to run by Lewis’ final essay, published posthumously by The New York Times in July, which urged “ordinary people with extraordinary vision” to stand up for the country’s soul. 

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Democrat Kwanza Hall, a former member of the Atlanta City Council and Board of Education who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017, raised $54,000 through Sept. 9 and had spent $16,000. He knew Lewis through his father, who was a staff member for Martin Luther King Jr. Hall also worked with Lewis as a city council member.

Both Franklin and Hall have expressed center-left views on a variety of hot-button political issues in their responses to a candidate questionnaire published by the Journal-Constitution, saying they supported protecting and improving the 2010 health care law, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally and government efforts to respond to climate change.

Running to their left, Barrington Martin II, a special needs educator who unsuccessfully challenged Lewis in the June Democratic primary, raised and spent about $16,000. 

Other candidates include Democratic state Rep. Mable Thomas, also a onetime Atlanta city council member, and former Democratic state Rep. Keisha Sean Waites, who challenged Rep. David Scott in the Democratic primary in the neighboring 13th District in June and narrowly missed forcing a runoff. Neither had reported any fundraising to the Federal Election Commission by early September. 

An outright winner in the race would have about three months in office before the next Congress is sworn in Jan. 3, but the House is only due to be in session for two days in October and for three weeks after the November election.