Former State Rep. Tom Graves beat former State Sen. Lee Hawkins Tuesday in a runoff to fill the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives through the end of the year.
Graves won the special election with a little more than 56 percent of the vote to serve out the remainder of former Rep. Nathan Deal's term in Congress. Hawkins trailed with nearly 44 percent of the vote.
Graves will be right back on the campaign trail regardless of winning Tuesday's election. Graves, Hawkins and five other contenders will be on the ballot in the July 20 primary for a shot at a full term in Congress.
"We're certainly very excited about the outcome of the election and look forward to representing the 9th Congressional District as a bold voice in Washington and we've had a great campaign, an exciting campaign, and we're very pleased with the outcome," Graves said.
He believes the promising results from the special election are a good sign of future success.
"I think the results we see tonight will be very similar to what you would see moving forward as we continue to represent now the district just the same way as we've campaigned," Graves said. "We'll continue working hard to earn the trust of voters all throughout the district as we move forward in the next six weeks."
Graves, 40, is a Republican from Ranger. He was in his fourth term in the Georgia House of Representatives when he resigned to run for the U.S. House. He owns and manages multifamily housing and commercial real estate properties.
Graves said he and his campaign team are working on plans for the next few months of the busy election season.
"I think the fact that the voters have expressed their support of our candidacy through two elections shows that our message resonates with voters here in North Georgia," Graves said.
Hawkins said he saw some positive signs from Tuesday's election results.
"The results show that we gained ground in every county and moved forward," Hawkins said. "We will continue to do that up to the July 20 primary.
"We'll continue to get through the district and shake hands and meet people face to face and that will bring us up even more in the polls."
The 59 year old Republican is a dentist in Gainesville. He was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2004 and resigned the position this year to run for Congress.
"I really appreciate the support of my family and everyone who's worked in the campaign and the community of the 9th District," Hawkins said. "We have run with integrity and honor and we will continue to do so."
Hawkins believes Graves will have an uphill battle in the upcoming primary election.
Graves is facing a lawsuit from a Georgia bank accusing him and fellow Republican Rep. Chip Rogers of failing to repay a $2.3 million loan used to buy a budget motel.
"A lot of this did not get through the western (portion of the) district ... as time goes by this will be more widely known," Hawkins said.
Results varied across the conservative 15 county district. Graves was a clear favorite in Forsyth County, where he took 5,000 plus of the more than 8,000 votes in the county. Likewise, Hawkins easily beat Graves in his home county. Hall County voters gave Hawkins more than 7,400 of the 12,229 votes.
In Dawson County, Hawkins received 713 of the 1,353 votes cast.
In the May 11 special election, Graves and Hawkins received the most votes of eight hopefuls, with Graves taking 35.4 percent of the vote and Hawkins, 23.2 percent.
In what has been a hotly competitive race, Graves has touted his support from strong conservative groups such as the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and the anti-tax Washington group Club for Growth.
Hawkins has sought to beef up his own conservative bona fides, arguing for fewer government agencies and bureaucracy. Both men say they would oppose President Barack Obama's health care plan and many other Democratic initiatives.
The two men and five other Republicans — Chris Cates, Bert Loftman, Bobby Reese, Bill Stephens and, Steve Tarvin — have qualified for the seat in the July 20 state primary. The winner will earn a full term in the House. There are no Democrats qualified.
All but Reese also ran in the special election.
When the election results are certified, Graves will be sworn in as only the district's fourth representative in 57 years. Deal held the seat since 1993, following Ed Jenkins (1977-93) and the late Phil Landrum (1953-77).
DCN regional staff contributed to this article.