ATLANTA (AP) — A pair of former state legislators, including one backed by the tea party, will face off in a June 8 runoff for a north Georgia congressional seat vacated by Republican Nathan Deal.
Unofficial results showed Tom Graves, who has tea party support, and fellow Republican Lee Hawkins as the top finishers in Tuesday's special election. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Graves had 35 percent of the vote while Hawkins earned 20 percent.
Graves, a 40-year-old developer from Ranger, ran with the backing of anti-tax groups. Hawkins, a 59-year-old dentist from Gainesville, had cast himself as a mainstream conservative.
Graves said Tuesday night that his message resonated with voters in the solidly Republican 9th Congressional District because it focused on "the right values and the right solutions and the new energy that's needed in Washington right now."
Hawkins questioned Graves' support from outside interest groups saying 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," he said.
In Georgia, a runoff is held if no candidate earns 50 percent plus one vote.
Six other candidates were eliminated in Tuesday's vote. The field included four other Republicans, an Independent and a Democrat.
Among those voting for 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," Glenn said.
The district is heavily Republican and 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. The winner of the runoff will serve the remainder of Deal's term, which ends in January.
Deal stepped down in March saying he wanted to focus on his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. A Democrat who switched parties and became a Republican, Deal had held the seat since 1992.
Six of the Republican candidates, including Graves and Hawkins, have qualified for the July 20 primary election. That leads to the November general election for a full 2-year term representing the district.