U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who narrowly won the closest congressional race in the nation last fall, will not seek re-election next year, all but ensuring his rapidly-diversifying suburban House district will become one of the country’s fiercest political battlegrounds in 2020.
The Lawrenceville Republican said he plans to step aside at the end of the current Congress because of recent political and personal developments. In addition to running the closest race of his political career last year, Woodall also lost his father.
"Doing what you love requires things of you, and having had that family transition made me start to think about those things that I have invested less in because I've been investing more here,” Woodall said in an interview Thursday.
A relentlessly sunny policy wonk who has represented Georgia’s 7th Congressional District for five terms, Woodall beat back a challenge from Democratic newbie Carolyn Bourdeaux last fall. His thin margin of victory -- less than 500 votes separated the two after a recount -- prompted some Republicans to pressure him not to run again.
GOP insiders were furious at what they saw as a lack of energy behind his campaign last year. Woodall refused to run negative attacks against Bourdeaux – he instead doubled down on a cheery message about the GOP’s D.C. agenda – and didn’t purchase airtime on television until days before the election.
Woodall insisted that no one approached him about stepping aside, but acknowledged it would have been difficult to keep control of his message with such intense outside interest in 2020.
“There are going to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen in here, and even as adamant as I am about the way I want to run the show, it would have been harder to keep control over a message as outside groups come in on both sides,” he said.
He said he wanted to make his retirement announcement early in the election cycle to “give the next team time to repair.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already short-listed the 7th District as a prime pickup opportunity for 2020 after Lucy McBath picked off incumbent Republican Karen Handel in the neighboring 6th District last year.
Shortly after Woodall announced his retirement on Thursday afternoon, Bourdeaux said she intended to run again for the 7th District seat.
"We're coming back to finish the job,” Bourdeaux told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
State Reps. Sam Park and Brenda Lopez are also said to be interested.
“It’s a wide open race, and we’re ready to compete,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Potential Republicans candidates whose names have been floated include U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak, a former Gwinnett state legislator; state Sen. Renee Unterman; ex-state Rep. Scott Hilton and former state Sen. David Shafer.
Woodall made the rare move from behind-the-scenes to the political forefront when he replaced his former boss, John Linder, in 2011. A senior member of the powerful House Rules Committee, he’s known for delivering speeches in his preacher’s cadence on the intricacies of the federal budget. He lists his office’s constituent service work as one of his proudest accomplishments, as well as his work on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
Woodall’s is Gwinnett and Forsyth-based district has changed rapidly over the last several decades. Once lily white and deeply conservative, it’s now at the center of the demographic shifts that have transformed Atlanta’s wealthy suburbs into political battlegrounds.
Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.