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Candidates for Congress turn up the spending
9th District hopefuls focus on advertising, fundraising
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With two weeks left until election day, candidates seeking to represent Northeast Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives are spending more than ever in the hopes that the investment will bring voters in return.

Reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Monday show campaign spending for those seeking to represent Georgia’s new 9th District was at its highest point in the campaign for the three Republicans seeking the seat last quarter.

Doug Collins, Roger Fitzpatrick and Martha Zoller are all in the running to represent the newly drawn 20-county district.

The winner of this summer’s primary, set for July 31, will face Democrat Jody Cooley in November’s election.

In the three-month period between April and June 30, it was Collins who led the race to raise money, pulling in some $81,685 in contributions.

Collins also had the most cash left over at the end of the quarter.

Following behind him in the fundraising race, Zoller, a former conservative radio talk show host, raised more than $73,510; Fitzpatrick, a former White County school principal, pulled in some $11,811.

But Collins, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, also spent more than double the campaign cash he’s spent in each of the last two reporting periods.

According to his filing with the elections commission, Collins’ campaign spending last quarter neared $142,000.

In contrast, Collins spent less than $60,000 in the first three months of this year; and in the final quarter of 2011, the campaign reported spending $70,957.

Zoller’s campaign spending, reported at $72,062, was also the highest it’s been since she joined the race last fall.

Fitzpatrick, who filed his first campaign disclosure report with the FEC on Monday, reported some $6,200 in campaign expenses.

Spokespeople for both Zoller and Collins attribute the higher spending to last-minute efforts to garner voters’ attention.

Collins spent at least $30,275 mailing out campaign materials to district voters last quarter, which spokeswoman Loree Anne Thompson said has been one of the campaign’s main tools for reaching all the voters in the district.

Without a dominant television market that reaches throughout the district, Thompson said the campaign sent at least five direct mail pieces in the last several weeks to “help define” the candidate, detailing his history in the Air Force Reserves, as a lawyer in the General Assembly and as a Christian minister.

Collins, who represented parts of Hall, White and Lumpkin counties in the Georgia House of Representatives for the last six years, used the mail to reach voters who might not have known him otherwise.

“Some of these people had never heard of Doug Collins,” Thompson said. “We feel like we’ve done a good job of defining who Doug is.”

She said the six-figure spending last quarter, which outpaced second-quarter contributions by 73 percent, was supported by the campaign’s efforts to build up a war chest early.

“We started out with a good basis for us to go on these last two months,” Thompson said.

Zoller, who reported spending $72,062 last quarter, hasn’t used mail the way Collins has to reach voters.

Zoller has used automated phone calls to reach voters, but that spending hasn’t yet showed up on her campaign finance disclosures.

“Our biggest focus has been on getting Martha to as many events and in front of as many people as possible,” said Zoller campaign manager Ryan Mahoney.

Mahoney said the campaign hadn’t spent as much on mail, because Zoller was already well-known.

Instead, Zoller’s campaign spent more than $19,000 on advertising last quarter and purchased some 1,900 stamps to send out campaign letters and thank-you notes to donors.

“Martha’s already met these people and already developed a relationship and a rapport with them, not only to turn it into votes, but to build a constituency.”

Fitzpatrick’s campaign cash largely went to campaign signs and informational “push cards” that he gives to potential supporters, he said.

Unlike the other two candidates in the Republican primary, Fitzpatrick’s campaign runs solely on the support of volunteers. The White County resident said he has family on the ground in the district and volunteers in most of the 20 counties he seeks to represent.

Instead of getting mail to voters, Fitzpatrick said he’s trying to get in front of as many as he can by attending as many events as possible.

Though Fitzpatrick’s fundraising is hundreds of thousands of dollars behind that of Collins and Zoller, the former White County elementary school principal said his message is still reaching voters.

“I feel pretty confident about our chances,” Fitzpatrick said. “(Fundraising) is a concern, but I feel very confident in the message that I have, that it’s going to be the winning message. Because every where I go, people say ‘yes, that’s the route that we need to go — back to the original intent of the Constitution and return to the original intent of the Founding Fathers — in order to save our republic.’ ”

By the end of June, Fitzpatrick had some $5,603 left to spend. And while he has no stated plans for any more specific fundraising, Collins and Zoller do.

With three candidates in the Republican primary, a runoff election for the congressional nomination is possible.

If that’s necessary, the two recipients of the most votes on July 31 must have enough campaign cash to carry them through to the August runoff.

Zoller had a little more than $36,007 left in her campaign account at the end of June; Collins’ account held some $81,715.

Representatives for both campaigns say they are continuing to raise money.

Collins hopes to bring in money with a Friday event at Lake Lanier Islands with the help of appearances from former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston.

Zoller’s campaign has an event Sunday in Gilmer County at Poole’s BBQ, where she’ll have the help of supporters Joe McCutchen and Col. Oscar Poole.

Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, has a laundry list of events in Clarke, Hart, Forsyth, Gilmer, Franklin and Towns counties to attend by the end of the weekend.

He has no plans to stop to raise money, though Fitzpatrick said he wouldn’t turn the money down.

“I’m just going to spend the remainder of my time trying to get my message out going from county to county,” Fitzpatrick said.