The hole to the right of U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, touted for more than eight years as a staunchly conservative Georgia congressman, is not wide.
But two congressional hopefuls are trying to squeeze past Westmoreland on the right and claim the 3rd Congressional District seat, which represents an area stretching from south of Atlanta to north Columbus.
Chip Flanegan, a Jonesboro businessman, and Kent Kingsley, former chairman of the Lamar County commission, are taking the first Republican primary shot at Westmoreland since he was elected to Congress in 2004.
"I am absolutely to the right of Lynn," Kingsley said recently. "Take a detailed look at his voting record and moderate conservative would be the appropriate label."
Westmoreland takes such criticism in stride.
"I told some people in the Republican conference that I was being called a liberal back home," Westmoreland said. "That drew a lot of laughs. Even Speaker (John) Boehner said, 'Do I need to go down there and straighten them out?'"
Westmoreland said he has been told by constituents that he is too conservative.
"But I will never back down from my pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business stand," he said.
Kingsley insists he has never called Westmoreland liberal.
"I have called him ineffective and a moderate conservative," Kingsley said, who points to a 2007 vote in which Westmoreland was for a bill sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters.
"Basically, he voted to give a mortgage to anyone," Kingsley said. "He was the only Georgia Republican to vote for it, and it passed the House, but fortunately failed in the Senate and did not become law."
Westmoreland said he wishes Congress could accomplish more.
"Until people experience something, they don't really understand it," Westmoreland said. "I wish I had a magic wand and could balance the budget and pass a fair tax plan. But the government process doesn't work nearly as fast as some of us want it to. I think everybody up here would like to see things move, but we violently disagree on how to make it happen."
Flanegan is running on a fiscal conservative platform. He owns Jonesboro Rental Center, which he brought back to life after a 1988 fire almost destroyed him financially. It took more than a decade for him to claw out of debt, and he preaches against the country carrying an enormous debt load.
"I am the only one in the this race that knows how to get out of debt," Flanegan said. "I have done it personally, and I am willing to use that experience to get our country out of debt."
Both challengers are convinced they have a shot to unseat Westmoreland.
"I believe this election cycle is somewhat unique," Kingsley said. "In 2006 and 2008, there were major changes where Republicans were kicked out because they became un-Republican. In 2010, Democrats were kicked out because they went too far. I think in 2012, people will be kicking out incumbents."
Westmoreland said he welcomes the challenge: "I have told people this is an opportunity for us to stay sharp."