U.S. House 9th District
Occupation: Attorney and part-time legislator
Education: North Hall High School, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and North Georgia College & State University
Political experience: Collins spent the last six years in the Georgia General Assembly, serving as a floor leader in the state House for Gov. Nathan Deal in the 2010-2011 legislative session.
Family: Wife Lisa of 24 years; daughter, Jordan; and two sons, Copelan and Cameron
District history: Collins is a lifelong resident of Hall County, graduating from North Hall High School and receiving his undergraduate degree from North Georgia College. Doug is the managing partner at his law firm, Collins & Csider.
Occupation: Began teaching middle school in 1984 and remained in the classroom for 14 years; spent another 14 years in leadership positions, most recently as principal at Mossy Creek Elementary School
Education: University of Georgia, Bachelor of Science in education; North Georgia College, master’s in education; University of Georgia, Specialist in educational leadership
Occupation/career: Former Marine; retired educator/school administrator
Political experience: None
Family: Wife Linda of 26 years; stepsons Ryan Hulsey and Zach Hulsey
Occupation: Conservative talk show host, office manager for Dr. Linwood Zoller
Education: University of Georgia
Political experience: None
Family: Husband Linwood Zoller of 22 years; children, Chip, Ricky, Mark and Suzanne
District history: Zoller his lived in the district for the last 20 years; she is a Sunday school teacher at Gainesville First United Methodist, a member of the Gainesville Rotary Club and the Junior League and serves on the board for the Beulah Rucker Foundation and the University of Georgia Alumni Association
One calls herself a “firebrand.” Another repeats that he’s the only “consistent conservative.” And the third rarely sits down without mentioning the U.S. Constitution.
A seven-month campaign for the Republican nomination to run for the newest U.S. House seat in Georgia, which once drew five Republicans from three counties, ends Tuesday with three candidates on the Republican ballot.
Those left are a former state representative from Hall County, a retired principal from White County and a former conservative radio talk show host, also from Hall.
If neither Doug Collins, Roger Fitzpatrick nor Martha Zoller is able to earn more than 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two will face off in an Aug. 21 runoff.
The winner of the election will face Democrat Jody Cooley of Gainesville in November’s general election to represent all or parts of 20 counties in Northeast Georgia in Congress.
In the days leading up to the primary, the candidates have tried to appeal to the district’s very conservative base, all promising to vote to repeal federal health care legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama, to support a consumption-based tax plan dubbed the Fair Tax and to curb federal spending in a way that would cut the country’s growing deficit.
With the support of former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Collins is campaigning on his legislative record in the Georgia House of Representatives.
It’s a record the Zoller campaign has used against him.
In early June, Zoller began calling voters’ attention to Collins’ 2010 vote for a bill that sought to raise taxes on hospitals’ revenue.
The move, backed by then Gov. Sonny Perdue, was an effort at shoring up a deficit in the state’s Medicaid budget. The original bill never passed, but parts of it were folded into a larger bill that promised some $350 million in tax breaks for wealthy senior citizens and property owners over several years’ time.
Collins has defended the vote, saying it furthered a legislative process that ended in tax breaks for Georgians.
“Whether or not (the bill) passed or not is kind of irrelevant,” said Zoller’s campaign manager Ryan Mahoney.
The mudslinging in the race has largely been between Collins and Zoller, who each see the other as the chief opponent in Tuesday’s contest.
Collins, who has spent $312,601 on the race, has used the money to reach voters by mail and, most recently, via a website attacking Zoller and a 30-second TV ad that paints Zoller as a supporter of abortion, legalized marijuana and gay marriage.
He started his attacks on Zoller early in the spring, repeatedly using statements Zoller wrote in books and made during appearances on cable news shows as fuel.
Zoller’s camp, which has also had the funds to launch its own anti-Collins website, has repeatedly accused Collins’ team of using “half-truths” from those media appearances.
Zoller’s team has used robocalls from former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to rally support.
Zoller’s campaign has attracted the support of conservative superstars such as Cain, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in this year’s presidential contest but had widespread support from voters in the 9th District.
Mahoney said the Palin endorsement may have pushed a few “on-the-fence-voters” onto Zoller’s side.
But Collins’ campaign counters that those endorsements don’t matter because they don’t come from voters in the district. The Collins campaign, in its publicized list of endorsements, only touts support from those who live inside the district. On the list are several Georgia legislators and local elected officials.
“We’re not worried (about last-minute endorsements from Palin and Gingrich) because we have a strong list of 9th District voters that have endorsed Doug,” spokeswoman Loree Anne Thompson said.
“All are voters within the 9th District who understand the conservative values here in Northeast Georgia.”
For Collins, Zoller’s list of nationally recognizable names shows that “she has to go to Washington to get people in Washington to tell people in the 9th District how to vote.”
For Zoller, Collins’ list of Georgia lawmakers shows that he is supported by “the establishment.”
Though he’s never been the target, Fitzpatrick has publicly sought to distance himself from the dirt volley between Collins and Zoller.
At one forum in early June, Fitzpatrick declined an opportunity to ask a question of either of his opponents, saying it was an effort to keep the debate focused on issues.
At the time, Fitzpatrick said he didn’t want any question he asked of Zoller or Collins to be perceived as “going negative” in his campaign strategy.
Fitzpatrick was the last to join the pool of Republican candidates.
Originally, Fitzpatrick, whose policy opinions are based mostly in questions of constitutionality, started his campaign as an independent, which he said would help him be a “voice of reason” in what often seems to play a partisan blame game.
Fitzpatrick, though, recognizing the hurdle he faced getting his name on the ballot, qualified as a Republican. He also later began asking questions of his opponents at debates, though he said they have been “issues-based.”
Fitzpatrick, as of June 30, had raised some $11,811 for his campaign, about half of which he’d reported spending on campaign “push cards” and yard signs.
But fundraising numbers are a detail that Fitzpatrick, the retired school principal from White County, said he isn’t really concerned with. Nor is he worried about big-name endorsements.
Fitzpatrick has said the reaction he gets from voters on the campaign trail gives him confidence that he has what he calls “the winning message.”
In candidate forums and in interviews, Fitzpatrick often answers with a discussion of his desire to return to “the original intent of the Constitution.”
While he said all three candidates in the Republican primary are “conservatives,” and all have discussed their desire to make decisions based on the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, he seems to have put the most focus on it.
That issue, Fitzpatrick said, is the “entire basis” of his campaign. And, he said, it’s what makes him stand apart from his opponents.
“I see that the message that I’ve been proclaiming from the start is one that resonates with people,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s what people are craving ... they are wanting someone to go to Washington to stand for what is right and not just be conservatives.”