The race to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, in 2014 is heating up, and Newton County residents in eastern Newton will have a full slate to choose from when the primaries roll around next year.
Attorney Gary Gerrard, of Lexington, is the latest to announce a run at the 10th Congressional seat joining at least four others; the 10th district contains parts or all of 25 counties, including eastern Newton and nearby Butts, Henry, Morgan and Walton counties.
Gerrard has owned his own law firm for 20 years, according to his LinkedIn account, and graduated from the University of Georgia Law School in 1979. He formerly was a law professor both at the University of Miami and the University of Georgia, he said in a press release.
Newton County District 1 Commissioner John Douglas was the first to announce he was running for the seat but was also the first to end his bid, dropping out in late March, just shy of two months after deciding to run.
Charlie Harper, editor of political website Peach Pundit, told The News previously candidates often hope to be first out of the gate in an effort to dissuade others from running, but said Douglas’ early announcement didn’t seem to intimidate the field as some other strong challengers stepped up.
At least one challenger is a state political heavyweight. Georgia state Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, announced her run in early April. She has been a representative since 2003, representing the 104th district, which encompasses Dacula and northeast Gwinnett County.
In 2009, she was elected chair of the House Majority Caucus and also serves as vice chairman of the house transportation committee, which developed the transportation-SPLOST initiative. She also served on the state Water Contingency Task Force under Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Other announced candidates, include:
• Jody Hice, a 30-year Walton County pastor. He previously ran against U.S. Rep. Rod Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District race, where he received 44 percent of the vote in 2010 runoff.
• Brian Slowinski, former Columbia County Republican Party chairman (www.voteslowinski.com).
• Stephen Simpson, a retired U.S. Army officer. Simpson lost to Broun in the most recent race for the 10th congressional district.
Harper, with Peach Pundit, said the 10th congressional district is unique it that it doesn’t have single population center that dominates the district as it contains Athens, outskirts of metro Atlanta and Augusta, and the lake communities of lakes Sinclair and Jackson.
While it’s incredibly difficult to beat an incumbent, this is a brand new district (after the redistricting following the 2010 Census) with an open seat. It’s a very fiscally conservative district, Harper said.
Harper said a congressional race in Georgia could probably be run on a $500,000 shoestring budget, though $1 million-plus would be better. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor and expert, agreed $1 million was the number for someone to be considered a serious candidate.
Bullock said it’s difficult in Georgia to move money back and forth between campaigns, but a person with a large war chest remaining, like a Sheldon, could reimburse money back to donors who could then give it right back.
Bullock said Douglas had the background needed to make a run for Congress, as candidates generally come from state government backgrounds, but Newton County isn’t likely to have a candidate seek the seat now. Douglas did not elaborate at the time on why he decided to drop out of the race, saying in a release that his commissioner work was taking more time than expected and he was still recovering from prostate cancer treatments.