It could come down to a handful of votes.
In Tuesday’s special runoff election for the 9th Congressional District, former state lawmakers Tom Graves and Lee Hawkins are facing off to fill Nathan Deal’s unexpired term.
The May 11 special election started with eight candidates, and two rose to the top — Graves with 35.6 percent of the vote and Hawkins with 23.2 percent.
The winner will take the position until December and likely be a step ahead for the July 20 Republican primary to determine the full term for the seat.
The district includes 15 counties across North Georgia from Hall to Dade county, where Deal has reigned since 1993. He resigned in March to focus on his campaign for governor.
In the three weeks since the special election, both sides have thrown money — and negative comments — into the campaign, trying to prove who is more conservative, a better supporter of the Fair Tax and a larger opponent to the recent health care bill and immigration amnesty. Hawkins has been accused of supporting stimulus dollars, and Graves is stuck in a bank lawsuit over a defaulted loan.
On Thursday, the two threw out final efforts before voting day. Hawkins and Graves adviser Justin Tomczak, met at the Deaton Creek Republican Club in Hoschton to discuss issues one more time. (The meeting also included state Rep. Bobby Reese, who won’t be on the ballot Tuesday, but will be one of the candidates fighting for the position in the July primary.)
“The economy is like a bathtub with money in it, and if you don’t have the money, someone else does. Under [former President Ronald] Reagan, people were allowed to have their own money and help the economy by spending it,” Hawkins said. “I would have voted against the stimulus bill, to reduce taxes and to free that money up.”
Hawkins, 59, argued for fewer government agencies and bureaucracy. 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.
“Nobody looks at that paperwork,” he said. “And now the insurance companies are running the show. ObamaCare is going to crash the system.”
Tomczak, representing Graves who couldn’t make it back from an event in Atlanta, pumped Graves as a conservative who “stands up for his values,” has the backing of the Atlanta Tea Party and was invited to speak at a 9-12 National Taxpayer March in Washington D.C.
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 run for the special election.
“He’s had enough of the out of control spending in Washington,” Tomczak said. “It’s time to get a new voice up there.”
In the special election, Hawkins pulled a majority of voters in Hall County, but Graves spread out his support with a majority of the votes in two counties and as the leading candidate in 11 counties. After the election, candidates Eugene Moon and Bert Loftman put their support behind Graves.
Graves is leading financially, too. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, he raised $147,036 in the four-week reporting period ending May 19, as compared to Hawkins’ $46,680.
But do these factors bother Hawkins? Not one bit.
“The mailers in other counties hurt us at first, but we sent out some with the truth on them and traveled over to Dalton,” he said. “And I’m doing what I think is right. Graves’ supporters make their choices, and I make mine.”
In terms of the money, Hawkins is glad he’s raised his $589,305, as compared to Graves’ total of $753,891, around home.
“We save money by using a lot of volunteers, and our money comes from inside the district rather than outside of the state,” he said. “I won’t owe anything to anyone except in the district, so it doesn’t bother me.”
But Tomczak countered, saying the outside money shows overwhelming support.
“I think conservatives across the district, state and country could see that among a wide variety of candidates, he was different, and they invested in the true conservative,” he said. “If I support a candidate in Florida, I should be able to send a check down to him to help. It’s a part of this country, and we should make no effort to restrict it.”
With district election offices predicting low turnout rates for the runoff — 5 to 10 percent — the race may come down to who’s done the most work in the last three weeks.
“There’s been a lot of name-calling and personal information pulled out, and that depresses the voters,” Tomczak said. “You have to go out across the district and meet voters and focus on the issues, and I think that’s why we did well in the first election.”