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Handshakes fuel campaigns with both big, small budgets

Big money or no, House candidates say hard work behind successful election

POSTED: May 9, 2010 11:27 p.m.

While other candidates milked all they could out of the last few moments before the deadline for voters to decide who should replace Nathan Deal in the U.S. House, Eugene Moon spent the weekend close to home.

Moon is the only independent candidate in the special election to complete Deal’s unfinished term as 9th District representative.
Moon has raised the least amount of money, but contends he has worked the hardest.

He converted his family van into a campaign advertisement on wheels. He painted many of his campaign signs himself and the phone number for his campaign is his to personal cell phone.

All of his campaign work happens after he gets off from his full-time job as a marketing manager at a Gainesville manufacturing company.

Moon’s campaign is the polar opposite of the campaign’s two fundraising frontrunners, Lee Hawkins and Tom Graves, who have money for consultants, broadcast advertisements and people who speak for them.

Moon said the people he meets are amazed at his dedication and the amount of work he has put into his campaign.

“They feel like this has been missing for a long time,” Moon said.

Without the help of other elected officials or political action committees, candidates like Moon and Bert Loftman have been spending much of their own money.

As of the last reporting period, Loftman, a retired neurosurgeon from Pickens County, had almost single-handedly supported his campaign with a loan of more than $41,000.

And while he’s spent some money on radio advertisements in Gainesville and Ellijay and in daily newspapers across the district,

Loftman says he’s not spending much more. He did not turn in an expense report at the end of March, because he said there was nothing yet to show.

Loftman said he doesn’t have a professional staff and manages his own Web page.

He said he is hoping voters look at his ideas rather than how much money he has spent.

“I don’t have a big network, but I think I have the ideas on the issues that this country needs,” Loftman said. “I can’t see putting a quarter of a million dollars into all kinds of advertisements ... hopefully people will look at the ideas rather than how much money (the other candidates) spend.”

Like Loftman, Chris Cates said he also does not have the luxury of relying on an established voter base like candidates with previous political experience.

But Cates, a cardiologist from Blairsville, has poured about $207,000 of his own money into his campaign, and he has received at least $13,000 in support from political action committees.

He’s used some of that support — at least $35,000 — on billboards and traveling to every debate in the district, he said.

“I’ve been in every county in the district this week,” Cates said Friday. “We’re going to do it again over the next five days.”

Chickamauga businessman Steve Tarvin, who has also loaned his campaign $200,000, says a lot of his time is spent within a 30-mile radius of his home. But that does not mean he has not been traveling.

He says he’s been in Gainesville and Forsyth County at least three to four times each week. Tarvin’s campaign has been so time consuming that he’s stepped down from his role as the chief executive officer in a Chickamauga textile mill.

“I’ve driven across the district just to meet three people,” said Tarvin. “We’ve been working hard from 7 a.m. to midnight or one in the morning getting home.”

Tarvin contends he’s talked to more people than any of the other candidates. Federal Election Commission reports show he’s gained the financial support of about 130 people since November.

Most of Loftman’s energies, he said, have been focused on sharing his ideology at forums, meetings of trade groups, tea party activists, 9-12 coalitions and local Republican parties.

“That’s what this (race) is about: Who’s going to buckle under the Republican leadership, which has been quite liberal, and who’s going to stand up to the leadership and be their own man,” Loftman said.

Getting that message out to the voters has been costly for some candidates.

Former State Sen. Bill Stephens has spent all but about $12,000 of the $107,000 he raised for his campaign. The most recent expense, he said, were some last-minute mail pieces that he said should hit about 25,000 households by Election Day. He has stayed away from television and radio advertisements.

By the time they filed a report on April 21, both Hawkins and Graves had, at one point in their campaigns, more than $600,000 each to spend on this campaign.

Graves had spent all but about $127,000 by that time. Hawkins had about $328,000 on hand, but his campaign had another $145,000 in debt.

Both have had almost an omnipresence on the airwaves, the curbsides and in the mailboxes.

Graves’ campaign has spent $23,679 on postage and printing.

All of the candidates say their biggest expense has been time, making the rounds and meeting voters.

Stephens said he has spent about 50 percent of his time since the campaign began in Hall or Forsyth counties. The two counties are the population centers of the district.

“I’ve just been going where two or more are gathered,” Stephens said.

Even the two with the most money they say they feel it’s important to shake hands and meet people.

Graves’ campaign spokesman, Tim Baker, said the former state representative has been working 15-hour days on his campaign. He starts with breakfast meetings, moves on to radio interviews and chamber of commerce events, taking breaks to make phone calls to ask for donations.

As the election nears, the days have been getting more intense. Baker said the Graves campaign attends up to seven events across the district in a day sometimes.

“We had a long streak today,” Baker said Friday.

Hawkins said meeting voters is the most fun part about his campaign.

“There’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye and asking for their votes, listening to their thoughts and their issues,” said Hawkins, a former state senator from Gainesville.



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