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Monday, May 28, 2012 - 1:00am

9th Congressional District Race Heats Up

Georgia gained a 14th congressional district in last year’s redistricting, reflecting the state’s rapid population growth between 2000 and 2010. The top two contenders for the new northeast Georgia district are both from Gov. Nathan Deal’s hometown of Gainesville.

Doug Collins and Martha Zoller, the frontrunners, will face Roger Fitzpatrick in the July 31st Republican primary.

Zoller is a conservative radio host. Collins, a state representative, serves as one of the Governor’s floor leaders. That means he introduces bills on his behalf.

He's also a lawyer and an Army chaplain. He doesn’t think working in radio has prepared Zoller for Congress.

“While I was pastoring a church, she was discussing politics," he said. "While I was in Iraq, she was discussing politics. When I went back to law school, she was discussing politics. When I was elected to serve in the citizen legislature, she was on the radio discussing politics.”

Zoller brushes aside Collins’ criticism that she doesn’t have a legislative record.

“Well, of course people in the legislature are going to say if you don’t have legislative experience, that that’s a negative," she said this week. "What I’m hearing from people around this district is that it’s a big plus. We’ve put people in there time after time after time whose turn it is. Professional politicians, whose turn it is, and it doesn’t work.”

Both Collins and Zoller say they are fiscal conservatives.

So is Fitzpatrick, an elementary school principal. But the Cleveland resident says his campaign differs from theirs.

“The thing that makes me different is my focus is on the Constitution and actually going back to the original intent and reading the papers our Founding Fathers wrote and their explanation of the Constitution,” he said.

In part, that means a much smaller federal government.

Jody Cooley, a Gainesville Democrat, is also running in the heavily Republican district.

Georgia gained the district after the 2010 census showed 1.5 million new residents in the state.