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GOP voters to choose among seven candidates in U.S. Senate primary

The candidates

Paul Broun (i)

• Residence: Athens

• Age: 67

• Education: Doctor of Medicine from Medical College of Georgia; B.S. in chemistry from the University of Georgia

• Occupation: Congressman, doctor

• Political experience: Elected to Congress in 2007

Family: Wife Niki; three children

Arthur “Art” Gardner

• Residence: Marietta

• Age: 55

Education: Juris doctor from Georgia State law school; bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech

• Occupation: Attorney

• Political experience: None

• Family: Wife Anita; twin sons, 25, daughter, 18

J.P. “Phil” Gingrey

• Residence: Marietta

• Age: 71

• Education: M.D., Medical College of Georgia; bachelor’s in chemistry, Georgia Tech

• Occupation: Congressman; obstetrician

• Political experience: Elected to Congress in 2002 after two terms in the state Senate and time on the Marietta School Board

• Family: Wife Billie; four children

Derrick E. Grayson

• Residence: Redan

• Education: Beulah Heights University

• Occupation: Senior network engineer and minister

• Political experience: None

Karen Handel

• Residence: Atlanta

• Age: 51

• Education: Some college

• Occupation: Business consultant

• Political experience: Georgia Secretary of State 2007-10; Fulton County Commission Chair 2003-07

• Family: Husband Steve

J.H. “Jack” Kingston

• Residence: Savannah

• Age: 58

• Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Georgia

• Occupation: U.S. Congressman, insurance broker

• Political experience: Elected to Congress in 1993, after eight years in the Georgia House of Representatives

Family: Wife Libby; four children

David Perdue

• Residence: Glynn County

• Age: 64

• Education: Master’s degree in operations research, Georgia Tech; bachelor’s in industrial engineering, Georgia Tech

• Occupation: Businessman

• Political experience: Former member of Georgia Ports Authority Board of Directors

• Family: Wife Bonnie; two sons; three grandsons

Picking a senator is never easy.

But with Saxby Chambliss’ retirement, 2014 is proving to be an even tougher year.

While Democrats are trying to gather momentum to take over the seat, Republicans have seven choices for who to take on the battle in November.

With the May 20 primary bearing down, the airwaves, phone lines, mailboxes and more have been filled with campaign messages.

“The Republican Party has been presented with a unique opportunity to choose from seven very different candidates in the Senate race,” said Rachel Little of the Gwinnett GOP. “It has been a long time since we saw an open seat for US Senate in Georgia and, with the amount of state and national money they are throwing into Georgia, the Democrats see this as a chance to turn the state blue.

“To put it simply, they are wrong,” she added. “Given the varied and experienced pool of candidates for the Republican ticket, we are certain that Georgia will remain red.”

First, though, voters have to choose May 20 among three congressmen, a state political leader and three newcomers May 20. And with such a crowded field it seems certain the top two vote-getters will square off again in a July runoff.

Here is a look at the seven candidates on the GOP ballot for U.S. Senate.

‘The Battleground’

Savannah Congressman Jack Kingston was an early frontrunner in the race. Popular in his home district and with a reputation as a conservative willing to work hard, Kingston was quick to gain traction in the race, but his campaign has had some ups and downs.

The hits came when he made controversial comments about considering having kids clean up schools to pay for their free lunch and some political foes launched attack ads.

Kingston has some powerful backers in the form of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and radio personality Sean Hannity, and commercials showing the 1993 Buick Roadmaster he drives around the state for campaigning and with his kids calling him cheap are helping to solidify his image as a fiscal conservative.

“The values of hard work, frugality and idealism have driven my life. Growing up, my parents made sure we knew the value of a dollar and the rewards of hard work. They taught us right from wrong and made sure we were at church every Sunday,” Kingston said, adding that he instilled the same values in his children and applied them in business dealings.

“The American Dream is at peril. An intrusive, big spending federal government is sapping away our freedoms and liberties. I worry that our children will not have the same opportunities afforded to us and will not know the America that we knew coming up,” Kingston said, advocating a plan to bolster national defense, encourage private sector job growth, reduce the national debt, achieve energy independence, enable work over welfare and simplify the tax code. “I am running for Senate because I believe it is the battleground for the heart of our country.”

‘The right leadership’

For David Perdue, the former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General, the sound of politics is the crying of babes, which he depicted in commercials about the four seasoned politicians in the race.

A cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, the businessman takes pride in being a political outsider, who has first-hand experience of how government policies impact business.

“I believe career politicians have created a full-blown financial crisis in Washington. Years of reckless spending by Democrats and Republicans, as well as overreaching federal government policies like Obamacare, are suppressing our economy. It will take a political outsider with the right experience to change that,” Perdue said.

A former member of the Georgia Ports Authority, Perdue has hit a few snags in the contest but his self-funded campaign war chest is stocked and he has the backing of at least one SuperPac.

This spring, it brought him to the top of the polls.

“If we don’t get our massive federal debt under control, our very way of life is at risk,” he added. “The good news is we have an economy that is just waiting to be unleashed. With the right leadership, we can grow our way out of the hole politicians dug for us.”

‘A real choice’

With three congressmen in the race and three newcomers campaigning as Washington outsiders, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is playing off her position as the best of both sides.

She has the political experience, extolling her fiscal responsibility in cutting Fulton County’s budget as a Republican commission chair without a majority on the board.

But she also plays the role of Washington outsider, with a personal story about standing up for her pro-life principles as a vice president at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a controversy that cost her her job.

“In the United States Senate, I will be the same strong advocate for doing the right thing rather than the political thing, even if it comes at a personal cost. In fact, one of the things missing in Washington is more leaders who are willing to put principle over re-election,” said Handel, who also pledged to stay in Washington only two terms.

While Perdue once made a comment about Handel failing to achieve a college degree, supporters like former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin applaud her for being a fighter who overcame a challenging childhood to forge her path.

“Georgians have a real choice in this election. My opponents are nice men who love our state and our country. But together, they’ve been in Congress a combined 42 years. They’ve had every opportunity to lead. Yet, they haven’t,” she said. “I have proven that I do not waver on my principles even under the most difficult circumstances.”

‘Conservative Georgia values’

Earlier this year, at one of several GOP debates among the Senate candidates, a moderator joked that Congressman Paul Broun was fittingly placed at the far right of the stage.

While his father was a long-serving Democratic state senator from Athens, Broun has a following as a right-winger, who has called President Obama a Marxist, proclaimed that global warming is a hoax and espoused the Biblical story of creation of the Earth in six days.

“I advocate small limited government as our Founders intended. I stand for individual liberty, not an all-powerful government. I support stopping the outrageous spending in Washington,” Broun said, adding that he votes for legislation based on whether it is moral, constitutional, necessary and affordable. “I have consistently voted with clarity and purpose to protect and defend the Constitution and your constitutional rights.”

A physician, Broun also advocates repealing Obamacare, replacing it with his own proposal based on “free-market, patient-centered solutions.”

“I am the only candidate in this race that has the record and the backbone to say ‘No’ to more government, and ‘Yes’ to Georgians and individual liberty,” Broun said. “While the other candidates in this race simply want a more efficient, less expensive version of the status quo, I want to fundamentally transform the federal government, forcing it back into its constitutional role. As the true conservative in this race, I will work to stop this President’s radical agenda and stand for our conservative Georgia values in the U.S. Senate.”

‘Skin in the game’

While all of the candidates promise to work to repeal Obamacare, Congressman Phil Gingrey pledged to go home after one term if he can’t get the job done.

Gingrey, an obstetrician who served Marietta on the school board before joining the state Senate and then Congress, says the health care law is hurting everyone, from young adults who can’t even afford the subsidized costs to seniors, who are losing doctors and health plans. The law hurts doctors and businesses as well, he added.

“Obamacare isn’t just a health care issue, it’s an accountability issue; it’s an economic issue; it’s a moral issue; most importantly, it is quite literally an issue of life and death.

“I feel personally obligated to the people of Georgia and patients across America, to finish this fight to repeal Obamacare, and put in place real reforms that don’t harm patients, but rather increase their access to affordable quality care without expanding the size of the federal government,” Gingrey said, who said his pledge to repeal or go home puts “skin in the game.”

“Since I’ve been in Congress, I’ve put my life’s experience to use — working to pass meaningful legislation that improves health care for all Americans,” Gingrey said. “And as your next Senator, I will use my power and experience to repeal Obamacare, once and for all, and fight for the same Georgia values that I always have.”

‘Strong and principled voices’

If those choices weren’t enough for Republicans, a couple of newcomers have shared the stage in debates.

Art Gardner is a patent lawyer from Marietta, who hopes to convince Republicans they should stick to conservative fiscal policies but should move to the center on social issues.

“I am sort of a ‘Barry Goldwater Republican’ — fiscal conservative, strong on defense, but committed to individual liberty,” said Gardner, who is OK with marriage equality and supports a woman’s right to choose in the abortion debate.

“We, the GOP, can’t continue to push hard right social stances and attract enough women, gays, minorities, and especially young people to win enough elections to stop the destruction of the country by marching us toward socialism,” Gardner said. “If we can focus on the proper role of government and leave personal decisions to be personal, we can grow the party into Reagan’s ‘Big Tent GOP’ again.”

Grayson, a pastor from DeKalb has made waves for his call for a return to the Constitution.

“It is time we go back to the conservative values and the principles of limited government and individual responsibility that helped to make America a great nation,” Grayson said on his website (he did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment). “The days of self-serving politicians and those who seek enrichment by special interest are over. Americans are capable of making decision for ourselves. We don’t need more so-called leaders. We can determine our own destiny. What we need now are strong and principled voices that will stand and represent the will of ‘We the People’ and who will honor the oath to support and defend the Constitution.”