GOP rivals set for Tues. congressional runoff

Tom Graves and Lee Hawkins are locked in a bare-knuckle runoff for Deal’s seat as neither won more than 50 percent of the vote against six other candidates in the May 11 special election.

Graves, a real estate developer and former state representative from Ranger, picked up 35.4 percent of the vote. Hawkins, a dentist and former state senator from Gainesville, captured 23.2 percent.

Deal, a Republican who held the seat for about 18 years, resigned in March to focus on his race for governor. His former district includes parts of Forsyth and Gordon counties, as well as all of Catoosa, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Hall, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Union, Walker, White and Whitfield counties.

Graves and Hawkins have staked out the same positions on several issues. For example, they both oppose the federal health care overhaul and the economic stimulus spending program championed by President Barack Obama. And they both support replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax.

Graves, 40, often touts his conservative politics. He has the backing of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, a conservative group led by Dick Armey and connected to the tea party movement. Graves’ campaign brochure declares: “Conservative Republican for Congress. Right Values. Right Solutions. Right for Georgia.”

“I’m a proven and tested conservative. This is one of the most conservative districts in the nation right now,” Graves said Thursday during an interview at his campaign office in Cumming.

Like Graves, Hawkins, 59, highlights his service in the state Legislature. But he also trumpets his firsthand knowledge of health care issues running a dentistry practice with his son and previously serving as president of the Georgia Dental Association. He is preparing to hold a barbecue event this afternoon with Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Braves Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro.

“I am for repealing some of this nonsense legislation that has been passed and reducing the tax level and reducing the cost of government,” Hawkins said Tuesday after making a campaign stop in Dalton. “No one seems to be responsible for what is being spent in Washington.”

The contest between the two has turned ugly in recent weeks. Graves has tried to paint Hawkins as a mudslinger, while Hawkins has accused Graves of not sticking to the facts.

Meanwhile, both candidates are gearing up for the July 20 GOP primary, which will determine who competes in the Nov. 2 election for the next term in office. Several other Republicans have qualified to appear on the primary ballot, though two have already dropped out.

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