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U.S. House debate features contrasting styles of five candidates
Roger Fitzpatrick, Doug Collins and Bernie Fontaine field questions Saturday morning during the Republican debate for the 9th District U.S. House seat at the Hall County GOP headquarters in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith/FCN regional staff

GAINESVILLE — It’s no surprise to see some agreement during a primary debate.

And there was certainly enough meat on the table Saturday to satisfy nearly every critical appetite during the Republican debate for the 9th District U.S. House seat at the Hall County GOP headquarters.

The 9th District includes north Forsyth and some or all of 19 other counties. South Forsyth is in District 7.

On taxes, foreign policy, immigration and social issues, the five candidates on the May 24 ballot played to an audience in little need of convincing about the broad policy positions the party stands for.

The candidates generally agreed, for example, on a desire to implement a flat tax; the need to build a border wall with Mexico and increase deportations; and stricter vetting of immigrants and refugees entering the country, particularly Muslims.

It was in their personalities, however, where incumbent Doug Collins and challengers Paul Broun, Roger Fitzpatrick, Bernie Fontaine and Mike Scupin carved out their niche.

“I’ve never run from my record and never will,” Collins said by way of introduction.

Collins’ re-election message is centered as much on what he will do with another term as what he has done in office thus far.

Broun, a former congressman from Georgia’s 10th District, spared no opportunity to question Collins’ votes, often foregoing the microphone to deliver his critiques.

“I have a proven record of fighting for the people,” Broun said.

Collins, versed in Broun’s record, also went on the offensive, calling for facts and truth in the most heated moments of the debate.

But those moments were limited to who best represents the conservative brand, who is most frustrated with business as usual in Washington and who has the chops to stand up to insider politics.

Though Fitzpatrick and Fontaine lack experience of holding office, both have sought this seat before.

Their background as military veterans had them calling for America to renew its strength at home and abroad.

“Education is a big part of who I am,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fontaine played on an outsider’s mentality, arguing that his career shows him to be anti-establishment.

“I was the most politically incorrect political science professor there was,” Fontaine said.

Scupin, a founder of Lanier Tea Party Patriots, often waved a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution as he spoke, proudly proclaiming to know little of Washington and its ways.

It didn’t take long for talk of the federal omnibus bill to make it into the debate, and several candidates said they were willing to shut down the government if it meant protesting certain spending measures.

“The government is sticking it to us,” Fitzpatrick said.

Collins said his vote for the bill was made after every possible attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

The candidates sparred over who best represented the pro-life position before Fontaine took the opportunity to make peace among them all by saying that in-fighting was just what the Democrats wanted to see.

With a town hall scheduled May 9 at the Brenau Downtown Center, co-sponsored by The Times of Gainesville and AccessWDUN, the candidates appeared to be sharpening their blades for the weeks ahead.

Early voting begins May 2.