In 2012, Hunter Hill ousted four-term Democratic state Sen. Doug Stoner in a newly redrawn district, flipping the seat for the Republicans.
With Hill vacating his post in September to run for governor, three Democrats have joined the field of eight hopefuls and are trying to take back the 6th Senate District.
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.
“It’s a tale of two districts,” Democratic hopeful Jen Jordan said.
The crowded race will also be an expensive contest, likely topping more than $1 million spent by the contenders. Combined, the candidates in the 6th District who filed campaign disclosures as of Tuesday have reported raising more than $950,000 for the contest.
All the candidates have their own reasons for thinking they’ll be the one to replace Hill.
Jordan, an attorney from north Atlanta, said her time spent previously living in Smyrna puts her in a position to understand the various issues of residents in both Cobb and Fulton counties.
“A lot of them are kitchen table issues — making enough money to take care of your family, send your kids to college, deal with traffic and transportation, and education,” Jordan said.
Voters are concerned with things that make an impact on their daily lives, Republican candidate Leo Smith said.
Though this is his first campaign as a candidate, the Smyrna resident and political consultant is no stranger to the statehouse.
Smith says he stumped for Gov. Nathan Deal and worked for the Georgia Republican Party focusing on minority engagement until July. As part of his work with the GOP, Smith said he encouraged Hill to run for the Senate seat in 2012 in the newly redrawn district.
“Even though this is probably the richest district in the state of Georgia, people want the same things,” Smith said. “They want to be able to afford a good education, have a safe home and upward mobility.”
Democratic candidate Jaha Howard, a dentist who lives in Smyrna, narrowly lost to Hill in a race last year, coming within 4 percentage points of the incumbent.
He said his work with a parents group working to improve the pipeline of schools that lead to Campbell High School made him believe he could replicate the efforts on a statewide level.
“All lawmakers say is ‘failing schools,’ but that’s not what’s happening on the grass-roots level,” Howard said. “We need to bring everyday people to the process.”
First-time candidate Taos Wynn, a West Paces Ferry resident running as a Democrat, said he also has a strong foundation in community, leading a nonprofit to help those in need.
Wynn said the organization aims to promote unity, something he said is needed in the current political climate — and something he said he wants to pursue through public office.
“I will continue to advocate for equal rights,” he said. “I plan on being engaged in the community and will bring that to the office.”
West Paces Ferry area resident and commercial real estate salesman Charlie Fiveash said improving roads to ease traffic tops the list of issues he wants to address. The first-time candidate running as a Republican said the state needs to come up with solutions to get cars off the road.
“Atlanta is a city of commuters,” he said. “People like to drive their cars. They’re doing good things at MARTA, but we can improve upon that.”
Taxes topped the list of issues to tackle for Vinings Republican Matt Bentley. Though a first-time candidate, Bentley said his grandfather’s service in the state Senate in the 1950s instilled in him a desire to serve.
Bentley, an Atlanta-area native, hopes to eliminate the state income tax.
“All district residents have latched onto my plan,” he said. “They are tired of some residents evading taxes and want to bring in out-of-state revenue through consumption taxes.”
Republican candidate Leah Aldridge also wants to focus on taxes, but the Buckhead health care professional says the voters she’s spoken to are worried about paying more for their property.
“I think that the General Assembly generally should have taken up the mantle of tax relief for our citizens,” she said. “That’s one of the main reasons I’m running.”
While Republican candidate Kathy Eichenblatt feels all of those issues other candidates are rallying around are important, she wants to ensure the Atlanta area preserves its green space.
“Whenever there is a plan that is made and whenever there is a developer involved we need to figure what they can do to contribute to the environment,” she said. “We need to keep an eye on maintaining or enhancing our environment when we talk about how we’re going to grow as a city.”
The top money-raising candidates in the race have found a wide variety of backers.
Two Democrats, Howard and Jordan, reported collecting $146,000 and $234,000, respectively.
Howard received a sizable chunk of his money from dentists or those in the industry. He also reported a $2,000 contribution from the law firm of former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Jordan, a lawyer, got overwhelming support from the legal community, including $5,100 from the trial lawyers lobby. She also has the backing from former Reps. Stephanie Benfield, Kathy Ashe and Rob Teilhet; David Adelman, a former state senator and U.S. ambassador to Singapore; the trucking company run by former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor; Board of Regents member Sachin Shailendra; and Bobby Kahn, the former chief of staff to Barnes.
Fiveash reported raising $152,000 as of 15 days before the election, including a $30,000 personal loan, contributions from state Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, along with several top statehouse lobbyists, and construction and housing lobby political action committees.
Aldridge reported raising $305,000, although $155,000 was in personal loans and an additional $50,000 contribution from her husband. She also received contributions from state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, former state Rep. Ed Lindsey and Eric Tanenblatt, a former top aide to Gov. Sonny Perdue.