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Posted: November 5, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Tea Party energized voters, buoyed

Austin Scott was one of dozens of Republican congressional candidates swept into office on a wave of party support and energy apparently infused into the election by the Tea Party movement.

Voters turned out in solid numbers across the nation, including 52.9 percent of Newton County voters, and sent a clear message that they wanted to see change in their representation.

"The voters kind of understood that change was necessary and our campaign did a good job of regulating the message that our focus is jobs and the economy and to stop spending," said Sam Ray, a spokesman for Scott’s campaign.

While it it’s impossible to determine how much the Tea Party movement affected certain races, several local groups made ousting Democratic incumbent U.S. Representative Jim Marshall a priority.

Fred Wheeler, a founding member of the Patriots’ Table, a grassroots conservative group formed this year, said that at least 80 percent of the Scott political signs were placed by his group.

"While there was general discontent in the nation because of the poor economy, the Tea Party folks were a very important additional factor because they helped to organize these discontented people at the grassroots level, and gave them direction. Many of these people had never participated in a campaign before," Wheeler said in an e-mail.

"Many felt as though our government was totally out of control and not interested in listening to the people. We now have a cadre in place composed of people who not only participated in campaigns, but now are on a first name basis with our congressman and state legislators. We feel they will be responsive to our concerns because they realize that we helped put them in office."

Even though most local groups didn’t endorse candidates, Ray said the Tea Party energized voters. In 2006, 45.7 percent of Newton County voters cast ballots, and that increased by more than 7 percent in 2010, according to the local Board of Elections. Given the growth in voter rolls, nearly 9,000 more people voted in Newton County this time around.

Republican Rick Jeffares won his bid for the State Senate 17 seat, garnering 64.1 percent of the vote, and said his victory was buoyed by high turnout.

"Henry County has been notorious for not voting, but we set records last night, with almost 50 percent voting," Jeffares said Wednesday. "That’s never happened, not even in a presidential election."

While the groundswell tended to lean Republican, Democrat Pam Dickerson, who ran for the District 95 state representative seat, captured nearly 60 percent of the vote in her race.

"Once I saw the final results, I was really ecstatic," she said after the election. "I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, just trying to get some rest. I’m looking forward to the challenge."

Jeffares is facing several meetings in Atlanta and a three-day session in Athens to help get up to speed on the budget and his other duties as a state senator. Scott will be attending a week-long freshman orientation session, setting up offices around the Eighth district and working with Marshall’s office to transition.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tuesday’s night losers were preparing for a future outside of elected office, though Marshall was one of the few local incumbents to lose.

"I think that you should take a look at nationwide results; we did very well compared to other Democrats," said spokesman Doug Moore. "He’s got a lot of opportunities and options and will spend time thinking about those and picking the best one."

Several Tea Party members said they will keep an eye on victorious legislators to make sure they’re keeping their promises. Ray said they won’t be disappointed with Scott.

"(Scott’s) better for Georgians because Austin is going to do what he says he will do. He won’t vote to increase debt or spending," Ray said. "You might not always agree with him, but he will tell you what he’s going to do and do it. They’re better off because he’s a representative of their interests and that’s what you need in Congress."

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