Gainesville Times: Hawkins Wins Bitter Battle

August 9, 2006

Lee Hawkins, who finished second in balloting three weeks ago, pulled off a major upset Tuesday of Mark Musselwhite to win the Republican nomination for state Senate District 49.

Hawkins, a dentist in his first bid for public office, received 5,964 votes, or 58 percent, to Musselwhite’s 4,338 votes, or 42 percent.

More than 10,300 people voted in Tuesday’s contest, election figures from Hall and Jackson counties showed.

Hawkins advances to face Democrat Arturo Corso in the Nov. 7 general election.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Hawkins told a jubilant crowd gathered at the Best Western Lanier Centre. “I promise I will go down and work hard for you.”

Musselwhite, 40, a former Gainesville mayor and councilman who led voting in the July 18 primary, was clearly stunned by Tuesday’s returns.

He addressed supporters at the Hunt Tower in downtown Gainesville with his wife, Angela, by his side.

“This is not what I was expecting to happen,” said Musselwhite, who went on to congratulate Hawkins and wished him well.

Musselwhite’s concession speech, broadcast shortly after 9 p.m., drew cheers from Hawkins’ supporters listening at the hotel.

In the eyes of Eddie Martin, the best man won in Tuesday’s Republican runoff election.

“I think Lee (Hawkins) ran a good campaign,” said Martin, who attended high school with the Hall County native. “This is the best time I’ve had in a long time.”

Casey Cagle, the Chestnut Mountain native who currently holds the seat and is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, offered congratulations.

“We’ve got us a good state senator here,” Cagle told the crowd. “I couldn’t think of a better person to work with down there.”

Hawkins’ wife, Sharon, said she is ready for the months to come as her husband prepares for the fall showdown.

“We are ready,” she said. “It’s a long-term commitment and we anticipated going all the way to November.”

Hawkins’ 24-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, had tears of joy in her eyes as she hugged her father.

“I’m just so glad that my dad is going to be able to help the community the way he’s helped his family,” she said.

Hawkins’ son, Charlie, said his father stayed true to himself throughout his campaign.

“That’s just dad,” the 18-year-old said. “He’s just a laid back, positive, nice guy.”

Hawkins said he plans to start the November campaign in a few days, and that he is looking forward to going out and meeting more people and hearing their opinions on all the issues.

“We’re going to make a difference,” he said. “We really are.”

And Evelyn Hawkins said she is going to sleep a lot better knowing that her son has won.

“I’m very proud of my son,” she said. “I felt like he would win it. I know his father would be very proud.”

Hawkins late father, B.L. Hawkins, was a leader of the Hall County Democratic party in the era when it controlled local politics.

Times community editor Harris Blackwood contributed to this report.

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