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Tamar Hallerman

Chamber of Commerce-backed Drew Ferguson wins 3rd District GOP runoff

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Mike Crane, center, answers a question during the Atlanta Press Club debate series in Atlanta while Drew Ferguson looks on. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Mike Crane, center, answers a question during the Atlanta Press Club debate series in Atlanta while Drew Ferguson looks on. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson clinched the GOP nomination in the hotly contested 3rd congressional District runoff Tuesday evening, according to the Associated Press, handing a major win to the business-oriented wing of the Republican Party.

State Sen. Mike Crane formally conceded to Ferguson in a phone call shortly before 10 p.m., according to a campaign spokeswoman.

“Tracey and I want to congratulate Drew and his family on a hard fought campaign and we wish him the best as our next Congressman,” Crane said in a statement provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Read his full remarks below.)

Turnout was relatively low in the 3rd District, which stretches from suburban Atlanta to the Alabama border. The Secretary of State’s office tallied roughly 41,500 votes as of press time, compared to the nearly 58,000 ballots cast in the May primary.

091104 West Point -- West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson IV (left), also a dentist, chats with patient Margaret Cathey (right) after an exam Wednesday, November 4, 2009. Ferguson says the plant has revitalized the town. Bita Honarvar, bhonarvar@ajc.com

Drew Ferguson. Bita Honarvar, bhonarvar@ajc.com

Less than 100 votes separated Ferguson and Crane in the crowded May GOP primary that ultimately teed up the runoff, but today’s race wasn’t nearly as close. Early results had Ferguson winning every county in the district save for Coweta and Fayette, the two population centers.

Retiring Republican incumbent Lynn Westmoreland, who’s represented the region in Congress for more than a decade, backed Ferguson and spoke tonight at his election watch party.

Rob Engstrom, national political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which financially backed Ferguson with more than $650,000 in ads and get-out-the-vote efforts, was quick with a statement congratulating the candidate:

“We were proud to stand with Drew Ferguson in the GA-03 republican primary runoff, and we congratulate him on his hard-fought victory.”

The race represented a huge win for the so-called “establishment” flank of the Republican Party, which has lost ground over the last several years to more populist and ideologically pure strands of the GOP.

Indeed, the runoff had become essentially a proxy battle for control over the future of the Republican Party. Groups from outside of Georgia flooded the district with more than $2.1 million to sway voters.

Ferguson, a dentist, focused his campaign on the efforts he undertook to revive his hometown as mayor after Kia Motors opened a new plant nearby. He also hammered away at his opponent for past comments on “no-knock” warrants, framing Crane as anti-cop during a summer in which the nation reeled following a string of murders and attacks that involved police officers.

Crane, a fiery social conservative who supported the charge on so-called “religious liberty” legislation in the state house, lambasted Ferguson for “gutter politics” and underscored his support for law enforcement. He argued that he was the only true conservative in the race.

Crane was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, conservative radio host Erick Erickson and the limited government-focused Club for Growth, which funneled more than $800,000 into the race.

Ferguson, meanwhile, had the backing of much of Georgia’s GOP “establishment,” including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, former Gov. Sonny Perdue and the five other Republican primary opponents in the race.

Ferguson will face Grantville Democrat Angela Pendley in November but will be heavily favored to win the seat due to the deep-red makeup of the district.

Here’s Crane’s full statement:

“Although the numbers did not fall in our favor, Tracey and I are humbled by the love and support we’ve received during this campaign. It has been an incredible journey spreading the message of freedom and liberty throughout our great district and we will always stand for those values.

Tracey and I want to congratulate Drew and his family on a hard fought campaign and we wish him the best as our next Congressman.”