- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia’s Republican congressional hopefuls largely fell in line behind Donald Trump during a series of debates Friday, days after Trump essentially clinched the party’s presidential nomination. Only one candidate - Derrick Grayson in the GOP U.S. Senate primary - expressed doubts about the businessman.

Three Democrats hoping to take the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Johnny Isakson clashed over the personal wealth of the candidate officially backed by the state party.

The debates air statewide Sunday on Georgia Public Broadcasting. Videos also will be posted on the Atlanta Press Club’s website following the broadcasts.

Here’s a look at some of the top races:



In the Democratic Senate primary, party-backed candidate Jim Barksdale fended off questions about his own wealth.

Barksdale, who founded and owns an investment firm, said it makes him a viable candidate. Federal records show he’s loaned the campaign more than $1 million. But he’s stayed out of the public eye since qualifying for the race two months ago.

He promised to help people “left behind” in the economy by renegotiating trade deals and incentives for businesses returning jobs to the U.S.

Cheryl Copeland, a project manager, referred to Barksdale as a “wealthy businessman,” and businessman John Coyne said party leaders’ backing gives Barksdale an unfair edge in the primary.

Isakson didn’t attend the GOP debate. Heath Garrett, an Isakson campaign consultant, said he had a scheduling conflict.

As in recent campaign emails, Grayson suggested that Isakson would not complete a full term due to his age and a diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.

“If Mr. Isakson retires, Georgians would have been cheated out of an opportunity to vote for someone that could carry forth a full six-year term,” he said.

Isakson disclosed the disease in June, and said in a written statement that it had not “impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate.”

Grayson also was the only Republican on Friday to withhold an endorsement for Trump, saying “there are some things I would have to overcome.” Grayson said he was troubled by Trump’s comments on troop orders and other issues.

Mary Kay Bacallao, an educator, focused her criticism on Isakson’s support for legislation passed to replace No Child Left Behind. Bacallao said local districts should have total control and criticized requirements that schools submit records to federal authorities.



Seven Republicans slugged it out for the seat left vacant by retiring Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.

States’ rights as opposed to government overreach dominated the conversation, with all candidates calling for less federal involvement on issues such as immigration, health care and medical marijuana.

State Sen. Mike Crane, a Republican from Newnan, was the first candidate asked about his support of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. Crane, who initially backed Ted Cruz, answered that he would support whoever received the nomination.

A topic that all candidates discussed at length was legislative reform regarding marijuana. All candidates were in favor of lowering marijuana to a schedule II drug, as opposed to its current classification.

Other candidates in the field include: U.S. Air Force veteran Samuel Anders, former West Point Mayor and dentist Drew Ferguson, Chip Flanegan, entrepreneur and film producer Richard Mix, Fayette County businessman Jim Pace and educator and military veteran Arnall “Rod” Thomas.



Four men seeking to replace Republican Rep. Doug Collins attacked the incumbent, charging that he should not have supported a federal spending bill.

The sharpest exchanges came between Collins and Paul Broun, former congressman in the 10th Congressional District. Roger Fitzpatrick, a former educator, Bernie Fontaine, retired military, and Mike Scupin, a retired developer, also are running for the party’s nomination.

Collins said voters shouldn’t trust Broun due to ethics issues in his former office. Broun was investigated in 2014 by the House Office of Congressional Ethics, which concluded there was “substantial reason to believe” that Broun violated House rules and federal law by using official House funds to hire a consultant for debate preparations and other campaign work. Broun’s former chief of staff has been charged with using congressional funds to pay a campaign consultant.

Broun said he was clear with staff about following rules and federal law. Broun said he shouldn’t be held responsible if they disobeyed.

Asked about Trump, Collins said “we do have to come together.” The other candidates said the party must unite behind him.



First-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk also found himself targeted by four opponents in the GOP primary, criticized for votes on spending measures and for former House Speaker John Boehner.

Loudermilk said he supported Boehner on the House floor after voting against him as House Republicans decided on a candidate. He also said the spending bill prevented a government shutdown and challenged opponent Daniel Cowan, an infrastructure company executive, on how Congress should have continued to fund military operations without the larger spending bill.

Cowan blamed the situation on “bad negotiation” and said Republicans shouldn’t promise on ideals. Hayden Collins, an engineer project manager and conservative radio host, Billy Davis, a developer, and William Llop, an accountant, also accused Loudermilk of breaking his 2014 campaign promises.

Every candidate said he would support Trump.

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