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North Georgia race goes into runoff
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ATLANTA - The special election for a north Georgia congressional seat vacated by Nathan Deal proved to be an early test of tea party strength in the state, although no candidate emerged with a majority and a runoff was set for June 8.

The race between former state Rep. Tom Graves and former state Sen. Lee Hawkins could provide a glimpse of what kind of candidate Georgia Republicans want this Midterm election year.

Graves, 40, of Ranger, ran an upstart campaign, drawing in tea party activists and anti-tax groups. Meanwhile, Hawkins, 59, of Gainesville, represented the kind of mainstream conservative that has been popular with Georgia Republicans in recent years.

Unofficial results showed Graves earning 35 percent of the vote to 23 percent for Hawkins with all precincts reporting Tuesday. In Georgia, a runoff is held if no candidate earns 50 percent plus one vote.

Graves, speaking from his campaign headquarters in Cumming, said his message resonated with voters in the solidly Republican district because it focused on "the right values and the right solutions and the new energy that's needed in Washington right now."

In perhaps a preview of the next few weeks, Hawkins questioned Graves' support from outside interest groups and said he was troubled "to see money pouring in from out of state to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to defeat a fellow Republican."

"You have to ask why are they doing that, what do they expect in return," Hawkins said.

The rest of the field included Republicans Chris Cates, a cardiologist; Bert Loftman, a retired neurosurgeon; former state Sen. Bill Stephens and textile executive Steve Tarvin. Independent Eugene Moon and Democrat Mike Freeman were also on the ballot.

The 9th congressional district covers 15 counties in north Georgia. In the 2008 presidential race, 75 percent of voters there cast a ballot for Republican John McCain.

The major candidates ran on similar issues: the need to rein in spending, get tough on immigration and repeal the new federal health care law.

Margaret Williamson, a tea party activist from Ellijay who voted for Graves, said she was disappointed by what she described as voter apathy.

"So many people I talked to didn't even know there was a special election and didn't bother to vote," she said.

The special election was nonpartisan with no party primary. However, a candidate's party affiliation was listed on the ballot.

Deal stepped down in March saying he wanted to focus on his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. A Democrat who swapped parties and became a Republican, Deal had held the seat since 1992.

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