ATLANTA -- A pair of former state legislators edged out a Chickamauga, Ga., businessman in a special election Tuesday for a North Georgia congressional seat vacated by Nathan Deal.
Unofficial results indicate Tom Graves and Lee Hawkins are the top finishers in the election, meaning they will face off in a June 8 runoff to decide who fills the remaining six months as the 9th District's representative.
In Georgia, a runoff is held if no candidate earns 50 percent plus one vote.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Graves had 35 percent of the vote while Mr. Hawkins earned 20 percent. Chickamauga native Steve Tarvin had 15 percent, getting big boosts from Walker, Catoosa and Whitfield counties.
Mr. Graves, a 40-year-old developer from Ranger, ran with support from tea party and anti-tax groups. Mr. Hawkins, a 59-year-old dentist from Gainesville, had cast himself as a mainstream conservative.
Mr. Graves said Tuesday night that 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."
The rest of the field included Republicans Chris Cates, a cardiologist; Bert Loftman, a retired neurosurgeon; and former state Sen. Bill Stephens. Independent Eugene Moon and Democrat Mike Freeman also were on the ballot.
The 9th Congressional District is heavily Republican and covers 15 counties in North Georgia. In the 2008 presidential race, 75 percent of voters there cast ballots 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.
After the totals came in, Mr. Tarvin said Mr. Hawkins' domination of Hall County, his heavily populated home turf, made the difference. More than one quarter of the total votes cast came from Mr. Hawkins' home county, which he won in an landslide.
"I would have thought we would have had more than a 10 percent turnout in Northwest Georgia," Mr. Tarvin said.
Mr. Tarvin said overall he is happy and would regroup with volunteers to prepare for the general primary in July for the full-term seat.
Six of the Republican candidates, including Mr. Graves and Mr. Hawkins, have qualified for the July 20 primary election.
Among those voting for Mr. Graves was Dalton resident Woody Glenn, 71.
"I believe he's a man of conviction, and I don't think he'll be swayed once he gets to Washington," Mr. Glenn said.
Staff writer Andy Johns and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Continue reading by following these links to related stories: