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Ga. congressmen defeat primary challengers

The Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Three Georgia consgressman overcame primary challenges from fellow Democrats on Tuesday, while the state's newest House Republican was forced into a runoff less than a month after he took office.

Democratic voters also chose Michael Thurmond, Georgia's labor commissioner, to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in November. Thurmond defeated R.J. Hadley, of Conyers, who worked on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

"This is a great moment, considering my life's journey from a sharecropper's family in Sandy Creek to having won the nomination for the highest office in the state," Thurmond said Tuesday night.

Democratic Reps. John Barrow, of Savannah, David Scott, of Atlanta, and Hank Johnson, of Lithonia, all held onto their seats in an early election-year test of the incumbents' strength. GOP Rep. Tom Graves was forced into a run-off rematch with Lee Hawkins, of Gainesville, barely a month after Graves won a special election runoff to replace Nathan Deal, who resigned to run for governor.

In southern Georgia's 12th District, Barrow overcame opposition from former Democratic state senator Regina Thomas in their second primary matchup since 2008.

Thomas hammered Barrow's conservative voting record that included a vote against Obama's health-care overhaul. Still, unofficial returns showed Barrow winning with 59 percent of the vote. Thomas had 41 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting. The incumbent said he hopes to win those voters back by November.

"The things we have in common are going to count a lot more in the general election than the things we disagreed on in the primary," Barrow said.

Thomas conceded defeat, but said she won't be endorsing Barrow in the fall election.

A four-way Republican race for Barrow's seat ended with a runoff set for Aug. 10 between the top two finishers -- Ray McKinney, a Lyons project manager, and Carl Smith, a fire chief from Thunderbolt.

In Atlanta's 4th District, Johnson beat Democrats Vernon Jones, the former DeKalb County CEO, and DeKalb County Commissioner Connie Stokes. In unofficial returns, Johnson won with 55 percent of the vote with 89 percent of precincts reporting.

Jones had 26 percent, while Stokes had 18 percent.

Johnson's opponents entered the race not long after the congressman announced he'd been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, though neither challenger raised Johnson's health as an issue in the race. Johnson's re-election bid also received a boost when Obama endorsed him in the primary.

"I'm very grateful for his confidence in me," Johnson said of Obama. "I certainly have great confidence in him. I think it solidified people's perception that I was doing the people's work, just like the president is doing."

In November, Johnson will face Republican Lisbeth Carter, an Atlanta consultant who won a four-way GOP primary.

In metro Atlanta's 13th District, Scott cruised past two opponents. He had 76 percent of the vote in unofficial returns with 74 percent of precincts reporting.

Scott defeated two newcomers to the Democratic Party -- Mike Murphy of Mableton, who served as campaign manager to Scott's Republican opponent in 2008, and Michael Frisbee, of Winston, an independent who decided the only way to beat the incumbent was to run as a Democrat.

Scott's fall opponent will be decided by an Aug. 10 runoff between Republicans Mike Crane, a contractor from Fairburn, and Deborah Honeycutt, of Riverdale, who was the congressman's GOP opponent two years ago. They were the top two finishers in a six-way Republican primary.

Graves, Georgia's newest congressman, was forced into a runoff next month -- which will be his fourth election in a marathon contest to replace Deal in north Georgia's 9th District.

Graves was sworn in just weeks ago to fill the remaining months of Deal's term. But his newfound incumbent status wasn't enough to overcome five Republican challengers Tuesday.

"We're going to win this election, we're going to put it away, we're going to be that bold and conservative voice that north Georgia is longing for," Graves told supporters from Washington late Tuesday.

Hawkins, a Gainesville dentist who lost to Graves in a special election last month, kept his bid alive after Graves was unable to secure the needed 50 percent plus one vote to block a runoff.

"I sort of feel like Rocky," Hawkins said. "This nation has a lot of problems, and it's gonna take some tough people to solve those problems."

No Democrat sought Graves' seat.

A crowded eight-way Republican race for a chance to succeed retiring GOP Rep. John Linder also ended in a runoff. Linder's former chief of staff, Rob Woodall, of Lawrenceville, will face Bethlehem minister Jody Hice in August.

One Democrat, Doug Heckman, of Norcross, ran unopposed in the primary.

There were no primary challengers for Georgia's eight other congressmen -- Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop, John Lewis and Jim Marshall; and Republican Reps. Jack Kingston, Tom Price, Paul Broun, Lynn Westmoreland and Phil Gingrey.