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updated 5/11/2010 5:17:51 PM ET 2010-05-11T21:17:51

A North Georgia congressional race could provide a test of conservative muscle as voters in Tuesday's special election select between eight candidates to succeed Nathan Deal, a longtime U.S. congressman who left office to run for governor.

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The tea party and national anti-tax groups are supporting former state Rep. Tom Graves, a 40-year-old developer who calls his supporters "freedom fighters." Ex-state Sen. Lee Hawkins, a 59-year-old dentist, has cast himself as a more mainstream conservative.

The two have dominated fundraising in the strongly conservative district.

They are among the six Republican candidates. A Democrat and an independent are also running.

With just one congressional and a few legislative races on the ballot, voter turnout was expected to be low.

Deal stepped down in March saying he wanted to focus on his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. A Democrat who crossed over to the GOP, Deal had held the seat since 1992.

The eight are seeking complete Deal's current term, which runs out at the end of this year. If no candidate earns 50 percent plus one vote, a runoff will be held on June 8. The winner will have just weeks in office before a July 20 primary for a full term on Capitol Hill.

The 9th congressional district is heavily Republican and covers portions of 15 counties in north Georgia. In the 2008 presidential race, 75 percent of voters there cast a ballot for Republican John McCain.

The major candidates ran on similar issues: the need to rein in spending, get tough on immigration and repeal the new federal health care law.

The special election is nonpartisan with no party primary. However, a candidate's party affiliation is listed on the ballot.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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