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Democrats challenge party switcher

LAWRENCEVILLE - Democrats have taken advantage of an extra week of candidate qualifying in Northeast Georgia to field a challenger for party switching state Rep. Mickey Channell.

But neither major party was able to use five days of overtime to find candidates to run against unopposed incumbents in six of 16 House districts affected by a court ruling in a redistricting case that extended qualifying by a week. The extra period ended at noon on Friday.

As a result, four Republicans - including Reps. Len Walker of Loganville and Terry England of Auburn - and two Democrats have won re-election unopposed, barring a challenge in any of those districts from an independent candidate.

Michael Horgan, a lawyer and former Marine from Wilkes County, signed up on Thursday to oppose Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, in the 116th House District southeast of Athens.

"I think the voters of the district deserve a choice,'' Horgan said in a written statement.

With Horgan stepping forward, Democrats have opponents for three of the four former House Democrats who have switched parties since the end of this year's legislative session in March. The four recruits have boosted the Republican majority in the lower chamber to 104 of 180 seats.

Democrats also found a challenger this week to take on veteran Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville. Becky Vaughn, who made a strong bid for the state Senate two years ago, will oppose Smith in an Oconee County-based House district.

For their part, the Republicans found a candidate this week to contest the Athens-based House seat now held by Rep. Jane Kidd, D-Athens. Regina Quick of Athens will oppose the primary winner from among two Democrats who qualified last week.

A federal judge extended qualifying in the 16 House districts and in three Senate districts to allow time to hear a legal challenge that Kidd filed against a redistricting bill passed by the GOP-controlled Senate this year.

The measure split Clarke County into two Senate districts, hurting Kidd's chances of capturing the 46th District seat being vacated by Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, who is running for Georgia agriculture commissioner.

Early this week, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Martin upheld the changes in the Senate map.