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Some candidates wait their turn in U.S. House race

June 8 runoff puts focus on Hawkins, Graves, for now

POSTED: May 16, 2010 12:19 a.m.

State Rep. Bobby Reese might have the most ground to cover among candidates in the race to serve the next full term as Georgia’s 9th District U.S. House representative.

While campaigns for other Republican candidates in the race have been in the spotlight for weeks as they ran in a special election to complete Nathan Deal’s term, Reese has been lurking in the shadows.

The state representative from Sugar Hill chose to finish out this year’s legislative session and what he calls his commitment to his constituents rather than resign to run in the special election.

Now he’s got a long way to go to make sure some 300,000 voters in the 9th District know who he is by the July 20 primary.

“I’m sticking to my commitment of serving the people of Georgia,” Reese said. “I did not resign. I did that on purpose. I did not feel right about resigning.”

Two of Reese’s colleagues in the General Assembly — former state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, and former state Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger — did step down to run in the special election.

The extra election was necessary after Deal resigned in March to focus on his campaign for governor.

After Tuesday’s election delivered no winner, Hawkins and Graves will face off again in a runoff June 8.

Reese said his decision to pass on the special election hurt fundraising, but he thinks he can use it to his advantage in the campaign for the full term.

“I don’t regret it, and that’s going to be my message,” Reese said. “... People can count on me.”

While Hawkins and Graves battle it out over the next three weeks, Reese said he will be out knocking on doors, shaking hands and speaking at various events in the district, which includes 15 counties in North Georgia.

Reese says he has a pretty full schedule and three fundraisers lined up for the next few weeks.

“I’m hopping to right now,” he said. “... I think when you do the right thing it always pays off.”

While Reese starts from scratch, candidates who were defeated in Tuesday’s special election are at risk of losing their momentum.

Chickamauga businessman Steve Tarvin may have the most to lose. After heavy campaigning on television and events across the district, Tarvin had a strong showing in the special election, finishing with more than 15 percent of the votes cast. Until returns from Hall County were counted, Tarvin’s support was nearly neck-and-neck with Hawkins’.

Already, some of the candidates who ran in the special election have suspended their primary campaigns. After receiving 6.5 percent of the vote combined, former state Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens and retired neurosurgeon Bert Loftman said they likely won’t campaign for the primary.

Chris Cates, an interventional cardiologist from Blairsville, also is considering whether he’ll stick around for the primary. Cates received 11.8 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s election.

But Tarvin is not ready to concede. He said he will continue to attend all the events and forums across the district he can get to, even as Graves and Hawkins prepare for a runoff.

Tarvin was scheduled to appear at a few events over the weekend, and has fundraisers planned to shore up his campaign coffers for the primary.

He spent more than $320,000 to gain recognition in time for the special election, leaving him with little left to get his “send a businessman to Washington” campaign through to July.

If there are events where Graves and Hawkins are slated to speak, such as a debate between the two specifically for the runoff, Tarvin will be there, too.

“We’ll just be there quietly with our stickers on,” Tarvin said.

But he also said he is going to let the two candidates in the runoff have the spotlight until June 8. Tarvin said he will not air any television or radio advertisements until after the runoff.

“We’re not going to muddy the water ... while they’re doing this,” Tarvin said. “... There’s no need in clouding up the airwaves and confusing the voter with what the best election is. I think we ought to respect the two candidates enough just to let them have a voice and so the people get out and vote for whoever they think is the best candidate.”

But after June 8, Tarvin wants to convince the voters that he is that best candidate.

Even as Graves and Hawkins work to beat each other, some voters supporting Tarvin may switch allegiances.

“I’m not a bit concerned,” Tarvin said. “We’ve got a message that worked. When you come from nowhere in five or six months ... and get as many votes as we did, and as we develop more grass roots ground people over the next nine weeks, we’ll do just fine. I’m not a bit concerned about that.”


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