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New 9th district may draw a herd to post
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Now that Georgia's new congressional maps are almost final, no one's expecting anything less than a political stampede in Northeast Georgia.

The new map creates an open seat as early as next year and a major political opportunity to represent all or part of 20 Northeast Georgia counties in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there's a herd out there running," said State Sen. Frank Ginn, a Republican from Madison County.

Under the new proposal, Ginn's home would become part of the 9th District. But the freshman senator says he is not running.

"Not at all," Ginn said. "I love Northeast Georgia, but that's as far as I'm going with that."

Rumors of who might run have swirled for a year, but they picked up steam last week when the General Assembly's proposed map was released.

Yet several rumored to be considering a congressional run only coyly confirmed their ambitions. Among them are state senators, a radio personality, a sheriff and a state representative.

The new district currently under consideration by state lawmakers stretches southeast from Fannin and Gilmer counties in the north to Elbert County on the state line with South Carolina.

It takes in parts of Clarke, Forsyth and Pickens counties, with its population anchored in Hall, home base of the current 9th District until Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger was elected last year.

The sight of an open seat in conservative Northeast Georgia has congressional hopefuls licking their lips.

Radio personality Martha Zoller said she is "seriously considering" the opportunity.

Zoller said she considered running when then-U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal stepped down to run for governor in 2009, but family issues kept her home. Now she's a self-proclaimed "empty nester" who is ready to get involved.

But Zoller said her involvement in the congressional race "depends on a lot of things" that she declined to specify, though she did say one of them was the outcome of this special legislative session to redraw the state's districts.

Zoller likely would have to give up her three-hour weekday show on WXKT once she formally announced her intentions.

But just by virtue of her Gainesville address, Zoller is the kind of candidate expected to come out ahead in the race to represent a new 9th District.

Hall County residents aged 18 and older make up nearly 25 percent of the people in the new district old enough to vote. The county's voting-age population is nearly three times that of the second-largest county in the proposed new 9th.

It's enough for political observers to feel like Gainesville should have its own member of Congress.

Rumors circulated this week that U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, might consider a bid for the new district. The proposed congressional map moves a chunk of Broun's current conservative base into the new district.

A spokeswoman for the congressman said Broun was traveling in Israel and had not yet seen the map.

But one of Broun's Hall County supporters says he wants the congressman to stay put in the 10th.

Philip Wilheit, a contributor to Broun's campaign in previous years, thinks the new seat should belong to Hall County, and he'll fight for it.

"A lot of people I talk to have that same feeling," he said. "We were spoiled for 18 years having our own congressman (Deal). I think we're ready to go back to being spoiled again."

One of those potential candidates is state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. Collins already is working with Chip Lake, the former chief of staff for state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, on a possible run.

Lake, who says he only works for Collins on a volunteer basis at the moment, says Collins is giving "very serious consideration" to a congressional bid.

"There is a high degree of likelihood that Doug will offer himself as a candidate for that seat," Lake said.

But as is the nature of an open seat, Lake and Collins are expecting a crowded primary.

Some will quickly abandon their ambitions. Some are still testing the waters.

And others say they await answers from God or their families before filing papers with the Federal Election Commission.

State Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia, says he feels honored that people might consider him worthy of a run, but he's not sure if the time is right.

Butterworth has, in his two years in the Senate, become one of the governor's floor leaders and come to hold powerful positions in committees on higher education and banking.

But the former chairman of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners said he has three young children at home and his wife to consider.

"My family is my first concern," Butterworth said. "And we're kind of walking through some of those thoughts."

Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic already has announced that he won't seek re-election to his post next year. What's less certain is whether he has other political designs. Cronic has long been rumored as a candidate for the congressional seat.

He admits he has been asked about it.

"I have made no decisions about anything," Cronic said this week. "... The only thing I've really committed to is I'm going to pray about it and see what doors the good Lord opens up to me."

State lawmakers opened up an opportunity for state Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens when they drew the northern arch of Clarke County into the new 9th District.

The Clarke County resident and Stephens County homeowner says he will "probably take a look at" a run.

"Since those maps came out, my phone's been ringing off the hook," Cowsert told The Times on Tuesday, one day after the new district was revealed to the public.

Like Butterworth, Cowsert said he first has to discuss the issue with his family.

"It may just not be the right time in my life for me to take that type of run," he said.

The map was a pleasant surprise for Cowsert but it nearly closed the door on any idea of a congressional district with a Forsyth County center. The planned new 9th District includes the northern part of Forsyth, but the southern half of the county is left to the 7th District, mostly based in populous Gwinnett County.

Still, state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming says he's keeping his options open.

And though it may not seem like it, there are those who say they want nothing to do with the seat.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has repeatedly said he is not interested in the seat.

The former chairman of Georgia's Department of Transportation board, Mike Evans, who once had his hat in the ring for the 2010 9th District campaign, is keeping his hat on his head this year.

"I am happy with my life," Evans said. "... I'm not interested. I've had my fun. I'll let somebody else do it."

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