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While U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal is expected to make an announcement about his political future this week, the mad scramble to fill his 9th District seat is quietly happening in the background.
It would be only the third time in 57 years that the congressional seat has had a vacancy should Deal join the race for governor.
The late Phil Landrum, a Jasper Democrat, served in the U.S. House from 1953 to 1977. He was followed by U.S. Rep. Ed Jenkins, also a Democrat from Jasper, who served from 1977 to 1993.
Deal was elected as a Democrat in 1992 and 1994, but changed parties early in his second term. He was the first congressman elected from Gainesville since B. Frank Whelchel, a Democrat who served from 1935 to 1945. Thomas M. Bell also was elected from Gainesville and served from 1905 to 1931.
Among the candidates being mentioned as possible contenders for the congressional seat is state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who is in his second term in the state Senate. Hawkins confirmed his interest, but said he would not make a public announcement until after Deal.
"I am seriously considering running for the congressional seat," Hawkins said.
The domino effect created by the political changes has the potential of being far reaching. Should Hawkins enter the congressional sweepstakes, his senate post becomes vacant. A potential list of candidates would include Republican state Reps. Carl Rogers and Doug Collins. Neither man would speculate on their potential candidacy on Tuesday. State Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, holds senior positions in the state House and would forfeit too much to become a freshman senator.
State Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, whose district includes a portion of Dawson County, admits he, too, is looking at the congressional race. Ralston, who once was a reporter for The Times, deferred to Deal.
"I’m going to respect our congressman," Ralston said, adding that he would wait until after Deal’s announcement. "I predict there will be a mad dash from the starting gate."
Former state transportation board chairman Mike Evans is also awaiting a decision from Deal. Evans, who represented the 9th District on the board, has developed political connections in the area. Evans, who served eight years in the state House, left the transportation board last year after announcing he was dating DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham, who became his wife last summer.
Abraham, now Gena Evans, was fired earlier this year by the transportation board and now serves as executive director of the Georgia Tollway Authority.
Former state Sen. Bill Stephens also acknowledged his interest in the race on Tuesday.
Stephens, a former Gainesville banker, was a basketball player for what was then Gainesville Junior College. He served on the staff of Zell Miller when he was lieutenant governor and governor.
Stephens made an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state in 2006, losing in a Republican runoff to incumbent Karen Handel, who is now running for governor.
Others said to be considering the congressional race include state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and former U.S. Rep. Max Burns, who is now dean of the business school at North Georgia College and State University. Burns was elected in 2002 to a single term in Congress from a district that covered East Central Georgia. He was defeated for re-election in 2004 and lost again in a comeback bid in 2006. He was on the faculty of Georgia Southern University prior to coming to Dahlonega.