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Broun Faces Tuesday Primary

Just a year after being elected to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood, freshman Paul Broun of Georgia's Tenth District faces a challenge from State Rep. Barry Fleming in next Tuesday's Republican primary. Heavily Republican by nature, the winner of Tuesday's primary is expected to cruise to victory in November.

Located in northeast Georgia, the Tenth has three major population centers, including Athens in the center, Toccoa in the north, and Augusta, the most heavily populated region, in the south. Those population centers mean candidates running in the district have to pay careful attention to geography, something Broun took advantage of during his 2007 election.

Broun, from Athens, was widely expected to lose in the primary runoff, having won less than half the vote of the first primary's leader, State Senator Jim Whitehead, who hailed from the Augusta region. Yet in the runoff, Broun scored an upset after repeated gaffes by Whitehead, such as a remark that the "liberal" University of Georgia (located in Athens) should be bombed, sparing only the football team. Broun squeaked by Whitehead in the runoff by a mere 394 votes, thanks to a huge margin of victory in his home region of Athens, where he won 89% of the vote.

Broun's opponent this time around, Barry Fleming, is again running with an Augusta base. He's ahead of Broun in fundraising, having decided to run almost immediately after Broun defeated Whitehead, and has attacked the incumbent. Fleming has argued that the Congressman is not conservative enough for the district and has highlighted questions about Broun's run-in with bankruptcy years ago and contempt of court charges for failing to pay alimony.

But the majority of criticism has been of Broun's particular brand of conservatism. Broun labels himself a "constitutionalist" in the mold of Ron Paul (with whom he is friends). This has provided ammunition for Fleming on certain votes such as gay marriage, where Broun is less likely to grant the federal government the power to restrict individual behavior.

Fleming, who has been endorsed by the Augusta Chronicle, told Politics Nation that his campaign is downplaying the Augusta versus Athens theme which Whitehead used in the last election and is instead highlighting his "conservative, effective experience as a majority whip in the state house pushing tax reform, tax cuts, reducing crime, and protecting traditional families." Fleming says he has spent time in the northern portion of the state, hoping to cut into Broun's base of support.

Paul Broun's spokesperson Jessica Morris says that Fleming has run an entirely negative campaign, "distorting the congressman's voting record as well as getting personal." Morris says Broun has highlighted his support for the Fair Tax, enforcing the border, and reigning in government spending. She cited Broun's support for legalizing marijuana as an issue Broun has been unfairly attacked on, attributing it to the Congressman's support for state's rights.

Yet despite Fleming's aggressive campaigning over the last year, his strong fundraising and his sometimes negative attacks, Broun's campaign cites polls commissioned in each of the last four months showing Broun routing Fleming by massive margins. While local news coverage has played up this race as a nail-biter, Broun's "Ron Paul-like" conservatism has a good chance to keep the GOP nomination.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy