ATLANTA -- Republicans hoping to run for four Georgia congressional seats have similar views on immigration, taxes and health care, so a debate on Sunday was more about mudslinging and personal attacks.
In District 9, in north Georgia, incumbent Rep. Tom Graves bitterly battled with challenger Lee Hawkins, a dentist from Gainesville. Graves was elected to his seat a month ago to fill the remaining term of Nathan Deal, who resigned to run for governor. Next month will be his fourth election in as many months in a marathon contest to replace Deal.
Both candidates voiced their support for strong immigration policies like Arizona's, cutting the national debt and the dismantling of the Obama administration's health care reform package. But they butted heads over personal issues as Hawkins, a former state senator, criticized Graves for being sued by a Bartow County bank over $2.5 million in debt for his hospitality business.
"This is about character integrity and honesty, and it should be brought up in the campaign," Hawkins said during the televised debates sponsored by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Graves said the lawsuit will be settled soon and called it simply a "dispute between various parties." He denied accusations that he committed fraud.
The debates are part of the push to the state's Aug. 10 runoff for the top two vote-getters who did not garner more than 50 percent of the vote during last week's primary.
In District 7 -- which is Barrow and Walton counties and includes parts of Forsyth, Gwinnett and Newton counties -- preacher Jody Hice went head-to-head with political strategist Rob Woodall to replace outgoing Rep. John Linder. Hice painted Woodall, who was Linder's chief of staff for the last decade, as a "Washington insider" who has never lived in the district until deciding to run for office.
"I believe is disingenuous to want to represent a district you're not part of," Hice said.
Woodall said he's fought for the district for years and his experience in Washington will be key to helping push the Republican agenda in Congress.
"I'm the only candidate in this race who can show up on day one and begin to get results," Woodall said.
For District 12, candidate Ray McKinney declined the invitation from GPB, leaving an empty podium across from his opponent, Carl Smith. The two are running to challenge Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat who is in his third term.
Smith, a fire chief from Thunderbolt, said he is not a "career politician" like McKinney.
McKinney was running for president in 2007 when he withdrew his name to run for Congress the next year. He lost in the Republican primary election to John Stone.
"People are tired with politics as usual," Smith said.
District 13 candidates Mike Crane, a general contractor, and Deborah Honeycutt, a physician, played up their plans for the district that includes parts of the southern and western suburbs of Atlanta. Honeycutt, who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat incumbent Rep. David Scott in 2008, said she believes she is the candidate who can oust Scott because of her experience two years ago.
But Crane said if voters had wanted Honeycutt, they would have voted for her in the last election.
"The people of the district are ready for a new voice to represent their conservative values in Washington," Crane said.