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Tuesday February 9th, 2016 6:47AM

Graves elected to US House in North Ga. runoff

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) -- A Republican with tea party ties was elected Tuesday to the U.S. House in a special election runoff in north Georgia.

Tom Graves, a former state representative from rural Ranger, handily defeated fellow Republican Lee Hawkins, according to unofficial results. With 86 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:15 Tuesday night, Graves had 58 percent of the vote and Hawkins had 42 percent.

Graves, 40, will finish the remainder of Nathan Deal's term. Deal, a longtime congressman, stepped down earlier this year to concentrate on seeking the Republican nomination for Georgia governor.

Graves ran with support from the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, the anti-tax group Club for Growth and Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House. He tapped into anti-Washington anger in the conservative north Georgia district where frustration is high over government spending, a sweeping health reform law and the lack of federal action on immigration reform.

The 9th congressional district covers 15 counties and is heavily Republican. In the 2008 presidential election, Republican John McCain won 75 percent of the vote in the district.

Graves and Hawkins were the top voter getters in a May 11 special election. But neither won the majority in the eight-person field sending the race to a runoff.

Hawkins, a 59-year-old dentist from Gainesville, served in the state Senate. He cast himself as the mainstream conservative and a problem solver.

Graves, meanwhile, adopted insurgent rhetoric in his bid. He referred to supporters as "freedom fighters."

Graves will have little time to savor the win. He'll need to hit the campaign trail again almost immediately.

A July 20 primary will select the GOP nominee for a full two-year term in the House. No Democrat has qualified to run for the seat in November.
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