In a surprise on Tuesday, the former chief of staff to retiring Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) finished first in a crowded Republican primary, but it wasn’t enough to avoid an August runoff. 

Rob Woodall won 37 percent of the vote with radio host Jody Hice coming in second at 26 percent. State Rep. Clay Cox won’t even make it into the August runoff, finishing third with 20 percent of the vote.  

Cox was considered the frontrunner in the 7th District, though most observers thought a runoff was likely. Cox was a favorite of Tea Party groups in the state and had the backing of the state’s GOP establishment, including Gov. Sonny Perdue and state House Speaker David Ralston.

Cox was in Washington, D.C., last week for a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club.  

Hice, a former minister, stirred controversy earlier this week with a billboard campaign referencing President Obama. The billboards asked, “Had enough of Obama’s change?” The “c” in the word change was replaced with a hammer and sickle. 

Linder officially endorsed his former chief of staff Woodall in April. 

Support of the Fair Tax turned out to be a major issue in the primary, even though every one of the Republicans running voiced support for it. The candidates squabbled over who was the strongest backer of the tax proposal, which is based on consumption rather than income.

Linder co-authored a book on the fair tax with conservative radio host Neal Boortz.  

Woodall and Hice will head to an Aug. 10 runoff.