July 20: State primary
Aug. 10: State primary runoff, if needed
Sept. 21: Special election to fill Flowery Branch City Council seat
Sept. 27-29: Qualifying for Flowery Branch mayoral special election Nov. 2
Oct. 4: Last day to register to vote in general election
Nov. 2: General election
Nov. 30: General election runoff, if needed
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The race is still on.
Though Republican Tom Graves of Ranger earlier this month won a runoff of the special election to fill former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s seat, the other candidates say they’re not too concerned about it as the July 20 primary approaches.
Graves and four other candidates are still actively campaigning for a permanent spot representing Georgia’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. And the primary will be the deciding election in a race that has no Democrats.
“We’ve made some changes on the staff, but we’re still moving ahead,” said Gainesville’s Lee Hawkins, who fell short of Graves in the June 8 runoff.
Hawkins said his own campaign might even see a boost as Graves spends more time away from the state.
“Georgians are interested in someone that will take their interests to Washington rather than bringing Washington back here,” he said.
But Douglas Young, political science professor at Gainesville State College, said even a short incumbency would probably help Graves on July 20.
“Even in years where there’s a lot of voter anger at incumbents, the vast majority of incumbents will win re-election,” Young said.
“The fact that Graves won his runoff with Lee Hawkins so handily shows that he has by far the most support among the Republican candidates.”
Young said Republican voters historically prefer more experienced candidates with long records of public service. He looked back to John McCain and Bob Dole. Both may not have been the most conservative choices but both received nominations based on their experience, Young said.
Justin Tomczak, spokesman for the Graves campaign, said actual experience in Washington is just what the voters are looking for.
“I think the advantage is that now, as a congressman, Tom is already putting together a track record of conservative leadership, of taking a bold stance and of casting the votes in the right way,” he said.
But Hawkins and Graves aren’t the only names in the hat. Several of the candidates who were on the special election ballot in May will show up again in the primary.
Steve Tarvin, who came in third in the special election, is still a contender, and Chris Cates is also still in the race.
Seth Weathers, general consultant for the Tarvin campaign, said he wasn’t concerned about Graves’ success in the special election, especially since Tarvin was able to avoid the “blood bath” of the runoff.
“Every event we go to now we have 10 people come up to us to say, ‘I used to be one of your opponent’s supporters, but I’m with you now,’” Weathers said.
Two of the candidates in the special election have not returned for the primary race — Bill Stephens and Bert Loftman have both stepped back. Loftman’s name will still appear on the ballot, though, as he has not formally withdrawn.
Loftman backed Graves in the runoff, but he said he’s not supporting a candidate in the primary.
State Rep. Bobby Reese did not run in the special election, but he will be on the ballot in July. He said he chose not to run because he didn’t want to add to the expense of the special election and he wanted to continue to serve his constituents.
He said he wasn’t concerned about being out of the spotlight while the special election took center stage.
“If you do the right thing for the right reasons, it always pays off,” he said. “I think the most important thing a candidate can do is listen to the people that they represent, and that’s what I do.”
No matter who wins in July, though, Young said one thing’s for sure — the winner will be a pronounced conservative.
“(Republicans) are just really appalled by what they see as a stunning expansion of the federal government across the board, and they want to elect a staunch conservative in line with the tea party movement’s ideals of less government,” Young said. “So I don’t think it’s a surprise that, to my knowledge, all of the candidates running in the Republican primary have positioned themselves far to the right of center.”