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Across the 9th District, local candidates held their own in their home counties

POSTED: May 12, 2010 10:27 p.m.

Same seat. Different campaign.

And Hall County’s former state senator has a long way to go if he wants to be the next representative of Georgia’s 9th District in the U.S. House, it seems.

Former state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, received enough votes in a special election Tuesday to compete in a runoff to finish Nathan Deal’s term.

But support for his campaign was still 12 percentage points behind that of opponent Tom Graves.

Though no one received a majority of the votes cast Tuesday, Graves, a former state representative from Ranger, had broad support across the 15-county congressional district.

He received more votes than Hawkins in 14 counties, won a majority of the votes in two counties and was the leading candidate in 11 counties.

In the four counties Graves didn’t lead, he came in second.

And the odds of winning the runoff are in Graves’ favor, according to a political scientist from the University of Georgia.

The candidate who leads in an election forced into a runoff wins the runoff about 70 percent of the time, said Charles Bullock, one of the state’s most well-known political scientists.

And even though Hawkins, who only beat Graves in his home county of Hall, has won a runoff election in which he was the underdog before, doing so on June 8 will be a daunting task, Bullock said.

Hawkins finished Tuesday with 23.2 percent of the votes cast. Graves had 35.4 percent of the vote.

“No. 2’s chances of overtaking No. 1 (in the runoff) improve as the margin between the two narrows, and with 10, 11, 12 percentage points difference, that’s not a real close margin,” Bullock said. “(Hawkins’) odds would be a lot better if he were at 33 percent or 32 percent, rather than at 23 percent.”

Tuesday’s election in the 9th District was considered a barometer to measure the strength of the tea party movement.
Graves is a darling of the burgeoning movement.

Graves said his relationship with the tea party movement and other more mainstream Republicans was a “winning combination” he will continue to foster in his campaign for the June 8 runoff.

And though some consider Hawkins a more mainstream conservative, Hawkins said Wednesday he hoped to gain the support of those affiliated with the tea party movement in the coming weeks.

Hawkins also said he hopes to appeal to voters in the west side of the district where he received the least support on Tuesday.

“We’re going to work hard to get out and talk to folks and make sure that we get our message out,” Hawkins said. “People like to get out and shake your hand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Hawkins’ chances in the runoff may improve if he can gain the support of those candidates eliminated Tuesday.

Six other candidates were on the special election ballot: Republicans Bert Loftman, Bill Stephens, Chris Cates and Steve Tarvin, independent Eugene Moon and Democrat Mike Freeman. Many were from the west side of the district, whereas Hawkins holds down the east.

“One of the things that often happens is candidates will now try to get endorsements from the others,” Bullock said.

The chances of an endorsement aren’t likely, however, as most of the candidates on the ballot Tuesday still must campaign against Graves and Hawkins in July’s party primary.

Tarvin, a Republican from Chickamauga who came in third in Tuesday’s election, might have had the most pull in the runoff.

Tarvin ended up with more than 15 percent of the vote Tuesday and was the leading candidate in two counties.

But Tarvin’s campaign manager, Lanie Coulter, said he would not be endorsing either Graves or Hawkins in the June 8 runoff because the Chickamauga businessman is focusing instead on beating the two of them in the July primary.

The primary will determine which of the Republicans will move forward to November’s general election for the full term in the U.S. House.

After Tuesday’s results came in, two candidates who had previously qualified for the primary — Loftman and Stephens— suspended their campaigns.

Loftman, a retired neurosurgeon from Big Canoe who received 2.5 percent of the votes cast Tuesday, endorsed Graves; Stephens, who received 4 percent of the vote, said he would not endorse a candidate.

But even if Hawkins or Graves got the support of some of the other candidates, the voters must still be convinced and show up to the polls.

“What often happens is some of the people who voted for an eliminated candidate, they think, ‘well, my favorite is gone, it’s not even worth my time to come back,’” Bullock said.

And getting voters to the polls is the biggest challenge that both Hawkins and Graves face on June 8.

Runoffs usually have substantially less interest than the first round of an election, Bullock said.

“If (Hawkins) can get his 12,000 voters back, it might well be enough to win, but that’s going to be quite a challenge,” Bullock said.



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