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Graves, Hawkins headed to runoff in U.S. House race

Former state legislators finish 1-2 in 8-man race to fill Deal's spot in Congress

POSTED: May 12, 2010 12:22 a.m.
Emily Saunders/Forsyth County News

Tom Graves greets supporters, including Nick Satriano, left, as he arrives to his election party Tuesday night in Cumming.

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Voters will have to take to the polls again to decide who will complete Nathan Deal’s term in the U.S. House: Tom Graves or Lee Hawkins.

A special election Tuesday with eight hopefuls on the ballot revealed no clear winner. But the two former state lawmakers received the most support from voters across the 15-county district.

They will face each other June 8 in a special runoff election.

The winner of the runoff will represent Georgia’s 9th District in the U.S. House until December and likely have a leg up on the July 20 Republican primary for the full term that begins next year.

Georgia’s 9th District stretches across 15 north Georgia counties from Hall and Forsyth counties to Dade County in the northwest corner of the state.

Deal has represented the district since 1993, but resigned in March — merely nine months before his term was to end — to focus on his campaign for governor.

Graves had a clear lead in Tuesday’s voting to replace Deal, with more than 35 percent of the vote. After Tuesday’s results were clear, Graves said he told campaign employees they had eight hours to bask in the excitement before it was time to get back to work on next month’s runoff.

“This is halftime,” Graves said. “...We’re going to hit the field running again tomorrow.”

The race for second on Tuesday was a tight battle. Hawkins and Chickamauga businessman Steve Tarvin alternated for the lead as counties reported precinct by precinct.

But the voters from Hawkins’ home Hall County, one of the biggest in the 15-county district, proved to be what secured the former state senator’s spot in the runoff.

Tarvin won Catoosa and Walker counties and received more votes than Hawkins from voters in Dade, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties.

Last week, Tarvin told The Times that if Tuesday’s election had a “runaway vote,” that it would be for him. But Hawkins’ support base in the district’s two most populated counties stopped any chance of that.

Though Graves cleared the most votes in Forsyth County, Hawkins clinched the vote in Hall and received enough votes in Forsyth to pull away from Tarvin.

Still, Tarvin ended up with more than 15 percent of the vote Tuesday, leading the other five candidates in the race — Republicans Bert Loftman, Bill Stephens, Chris Cates, independent Eugene Moon and Democrat Mike Freeman. Cates, a Blairsville cardiologist, followed immediately behind Tarvin with 11.8 percent of the vote.

Tarvin said his presence in Tuesday’s election likely will show voters who might have been slow to support a political newcomer that he is capable of being a strong contender in the upcoming July primary for the full term as Georgia’s 9th District congressman.

So far, all of the candidates signed up for the July primary are Republicans. Winning the July primary would be an almost guaranteed win for the full term in November’s general election.

“I think this shows people that we are a serious candidate,” Tarvin said. “Everybody wants to be a winner, and the people think you can’t win; they tell you they like you, but they just don’t think you can win. But I think we showed them we can win, and we’re going to run in July.”

But for now, Graves and Hawkins look to complete the current term.

Graves, 40, manages and owns multifamily housing and commercial properties in Ranger. He resigned his fourth term in the state House of Representatives in March to participate in Tuesday’s special election.

Graves was considered one of the more conservative Republicans in the state House.

In the special election to be the next 9th District congressman, Graves has had the support of the burgeoning tea party movement.

Last month, he won an endorsement from the Atlanta Tea Party and was one of the few elected officials asked to speak at a 9-12 National Taxpayer March on Washington.

On Tuesday, Graves garnered 12.2 percentage points more of the district’s support than Hawkins.

“Our campaign plan and message and who I am as a candidate has worked extremely well through the campaign,” Graves said.
Hawkins, 59, is a former state senator representing Hall County.

The Gainesville dentist entered the political arena when he ran for state Senate in 2005, representing all of Hall and portions of Jackson County. He served until March when he resigned to qualify for the special election.

And beginning today, Hawkins has a little more than three weeks to rally up support for the June 8 race between he and Graves.

But the former state senator is no stranger to a high-energy runoff. His successful 2005 campaign for Senate was won only after a runoff between Hawkins and former Gainesville Mayor Mark Musselwhite.

Hawkins and Graves have already targeted each other in mail to voters over the last two months. As they prepare for the next round, the contest is likely to heat up even more over the next three weeks.

“We’re going to come back and we’re going to show the truth about what they’re saying, and then we’re going to energize the troops,” Hawkins said. “...That’s just what we did in the (state) Senate (campaign.)”



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