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GOP House debate contrasts styles of 5 candidates
9th District hopefuls on primary ballot largely agree on key issues
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Candidates Paul Broun, Mike Scupin, Roger Fitzpatrick, Doug Collins and Bernie Fontaine answer questions Saturday morning during the Republican debate for the 9th District U.S. House seat at the Hall County GOP headquarters in Gainesville. The five Republican candidates will be on the May 24 ballot. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Key 2016 election dates

May 2: Early voting for state primary

May 9: 9th District Town Hall Meeting, 6:30-8 p.m., Brenau Downtown Center auditorium, 301 Main St., Gainesville; broadcast live on WDUN AM550 and FM102.9, streamed on gainesvilletimes.com, AccessWDUN.com, WDUN.com and the AccessWDUN smartphone app; free to public.

May 24: Georgia state primary (for congressional and local offices); early voting starts May 2, runoff date July 26

Oct. 11: Registration deadline for general election

Oct. 17: Early voting begins for general election

Nov. 8: Election Day

It’s no surprise to see some agreement during a primary debate.

And there was certainly enough meat on the table to satisfy nearly every critical appetite at the Republican debate for the 9th District U.S. House seat Saturday morning at the Hall County GOP headquarters in Gainesville.

On taxes, foreign policy, immigration and social issues, the five candidates on the May 24 ballot played to an audience in little need of convincing about the broad policy positions the party stands for.

The candidates generally agreed, for example, on a desire to implement a flat tax; the need to build a border wall with Mexico and increase deportations; and stricter vetting of immigrants and refugees entering the country, particularly Muslims.

It was in their personalities, however, where incumbent Doug Collins and challengers Paul Broun, Roger Fitzpatrick, Bernie Fontaine and Mike Scupin carved out their niche.

“I’ve never run from my record and never will,” Collins said by way of introduction.

Collins’ re-election message is centered as much on what he will do with another term as what he has done in office thus far.

Broun, a former congressman from Georgia’s 10th District, spared no opportunity to question Collins’ votes, often foregoing the microphone to deliver his critiques.

“I have a proven record of fighting for the people,” Broun said.

Collins, versed in Broun’s record, also went on the offensive, calling for facts and truth in the most heated moments of the debate.

But those moments were limited to who best represents the conservative brand, who is most frustrated with business as usual in Washington and who has the chops to stand up to insider politics.

Though Fitzpatrick and Fontaine lack experience of holding office, both have sought this seat before. Their background as military veterans had them calling for America to renew its strength at home and abroad.

“Education is a big part of who I am,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fontaine played on an outsider’s mentality, arguing that his career shows him to be anti-establishment.

“I was the most politically incorrect political science professor there was,” Fontaine said.

Scupin, a founder of Lanier Tea Party Patriots, often waved a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution as he spoke, proudly proclaiming to know little of Washington and its ways.

It didn’t take long for talk of the federal omnibus bill to make it into the debate, and several candidates said they were willing to shut down the government if it meant protesting certain spending measures.

“The government is sticking it to us,” Fitzpatrick said.

Collins said his vote for the bill was made after every possible attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

The candidates sparred over who best represented the pro-life position before Fontaine took the opportunity to make peace among them all by saying that in-fighting was just what the Democrats wanted to see.

With a town hall scheduled May 9 at the Brenau Downtown Center, co-sponsored by The Times and AccessWDUN, the candidates appeared to be sharpening their blades for the weeks ahead.

Early voting begins May 2.

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