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War veteran faces political newcomer in race to replace Linder

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Even though he was facing a popular incumbent, Doug Heckman's message in his first congressional campaign two years ago resonated more with voters than today.

A Democrat respected in the community for serving two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, Heckman had an easier time in 2008, when people were frustrated with the Bush administration and pining over the message of hope that swept Barack Obama into the White House.

Just two years later, the sentiment among the electorate has turned again.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime second chance for Republicans," said Rob Woodall, who has the GOP's nomination to take over after the surprise retirement of U.S. Rep. John Linder.

Even though Heckman faces a political newcomer instead of Linder, the political stalwart for the area, the wave of tea parties and talk of constitutionalism gives Woodall a surge in the Nov. 2 race.

"I challenge (voters) to go beyond the party designation, to look at the person," said Heckman, who knows the 7th District has been a haven for Republicans for decades.

Woodall, no novice after spending years as Linder's chief of staff in Washington, drilled through an eight-man primary with the backing of his former boss as well as popular radio personality Neal Boortz, with whom he authored a popular FairTax book. He eventually gained the support of the local tea party groups, but he said he isn't riding Linder's coat tails.

"John and I were a team for so long that it's tough to distinguish myself," Woodall said. "But John and I are two different people. ... I get to bring youth and a new perspective to the race."

Like Linder, Woodall is ultra-conservative and believes that government has gone too far in interfering with business. He hopes to champion Linder's FairTax plan, which would eliminate income and corporate taxes and do away with the Internal Revenue Service in favor of a national sales tax.

"It's a freedom bill," he said, adding that the loss of corporate taxes could bring millions of manufacturing jobs back to America. "It's such a power transfer out of Washington, D.C., and back home."

Heckman is also in favor of tax reform, but he backs a less drastic approach to simplifying the tax code.

In fact, in many of the major issues, Woodall and Heckman agree that something should be done, but Heckman, who describes himself as a moderate, favors a less dramatic solution.

Both believe there are problems with the health care legislation adopted earlier this year. Woodall favors repeal; Heckman says to simply address some of the issues.

Both agree that illegal immigration is a national security and economic issue. Woodall wants the border sealed; Heckman does too, but he would offer amnesty.

Both believe the federal government must be reduced, especially in terms of spending, but Woodall would be more aggressive in cutting back.

"It's not a function of the government doing things. It's a function of the government undoing things," Woodall said, adding that uncertainty in taxes and health care costs are keeping business leaders from hiring.

"To me, the option is let's make it better, not let's do away with it," Heckman said.

This election cycle, political pundits across the country have talked about the momentum to bring Congress back to the right.

Heckman acknowledges that and said that whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, the margin in Washington will be much tighter.

"That will force the administration to the center, and I think that's a good thing. I will work in the middle," he said.

The work of the past few years, he said, shouldn't be undone.

But Woodall said the people are angry, and they should be answered.

"We have a huge job in returning those freedoms (taken from people)," he said. "What a wonderful opportunity this is for a freshman member."