Graves Wins Runoff for Deal’s Seat in Georgia

Posted June 8, 2010 at 7:32pm

Former Georgia state Rep. Tom Graves (R) is coming to Congress.

A month after finishing 12 points ahead of his closest competitor in Georgia’s 9th district special election, Graves finished the job in Tuesday’s special runoff.

Graves will now serve out the unexpired term of former Rep. Nathan Deal (R), who is running for governor and resigned earlier this year.

With 60 percent reporting, The Associated Press called the special election for Graves, who had 60 percent to former state Sen. Lee Hawkins’ (R) 40 percent.

Graves, a real estate investor, built much of his early campaign around courting the tea party vote and touting his endorsement from the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth. The club raised about $220,000 for Graves and put an additional $100,000 into the race through its political action committee.

But after finishing with 35 percent of the vote to Hawkins’ 23 percent in an eight-way election May 11, Graves suddenly saw establishment support roll in. Two days after that election, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) endorsed his campaign, followed by House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

Hawkins, who hails from the district’s population center in the southeast part of the region, began the race with a distinct geographic advantage over Graves, whose home lies in the small town of Ranger about halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hawkins was also well-funded. With the help of almost $150,000 in personal loans, Hawkins showed a slight fundraising lead over Graves at the end of March.

But Graves’ momentum can be seen in the fact that during the final six weeks of the campaign, he outraised Hawkins by a nearly 4-1 margin, according to late Federal Election Commission reports.

Graves was also able to shrug off some late bad press concerning a bank lawsuit over an unpaid business loan. That story broke just before Memorial Day.

But Graves won’t have long to celebrate his victory Tuesday. If he wants to have the opportunity to serve past December, he’ll have to win the regular GOP primary July 20. Hawkins and a half-dozen other Republicans have qualified for that ballot, and Hawkins has said he’ll run in that race regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

But Graves will have a significant advantage, especially when it comes to fundraising, by being able to run for the GOP nomination as the incumbent.

That primary could go to an August runoff, but the winner will be all but certain to win the general election in the safely Republican district.