Hopefuls soften tone in debate

Both 10th Congressional District hopefuls backed off attacks slightly Friday after their tactics were questioned during a political forum broadcast by Augusta radio station WGAC.

The amicable tone of the informal debate - in which the Republican candidates laughed with each other during commercial breaks - was in contrast to a sharper atmosphere earlier this week in Athens.

On Wednesday, frontrunner Jim Whitehead accused his opponent, Paul Broun, of beginning to raise money for the seat vacated by the late Charlie Norwood when the longtime representative had a lung transplant two years ago.

Conservative talk show host Austin Rhodes asked Mr. Whitehead if he was focusing on a "non-issue" in the July 17 runoff.

The Columbia County resident and former state senator said he didn't want to make it an issue. He emphasized that his personal decision was to wait until Mr. Norwood had been buried to begin campaigning.

"I was not going to consider it, or talk about it, until we put Charlie to rest in the proper manner," Mr. Whitehead said.

Mr. Rhodes followed up by asking Athens-based physician Mr. Broun if it was unfair to attack Mr. Whitehead's Iraq position based on media reports, which the radio host said "twisted" Mr. Whitehead's comments to suggest that he thought the Iraq war was an unimportant issue for the district.

Mr. Broun apologized for the attack, if the news reports were skewed. But he stuck to his contention that the Iraq war is a critical issue in the 10th District - and an issue he thinks Mr. Whitehead might have put low on the priority list.

"It's something that is maybe not showing up on his radar screen with the polls or something. I don't know why he made that statement if he did make that statement," he said.

Both Republicans asserted virtually identical positions on big issues such as the national sales tax, immigration and the war. Both also have said they support expansion of the Medical College of Georgia in Athens.

Mr. Broun scraped for every inch he could to gain on Mr. Whitehead, who took about 43 percent of the vote in the June 19 special election.

Mr. Broun tried to portray one of Mr. Whitehead's answers on immigration as a reversal after he said he thought illegal immigrants should be sent out of the country. Mr. Whitehead didn't respond to the accusation.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.