The Georgia Governor's Race Blues

Georgia Democrat Roy Barnes, the governor from 1998 to 2002 and running again for the same office, got as far away from President Obama as he could last Monday when the President came to the Peach State.

Barnes wasn’t going to take the risk of a picture of him and the President being used in mailer by his Republican opponent. 

I suppose Barnes is old school. He doesn’t have to be in the same place as President Obama to get tied to him and you can “bet your bottom dollar” the Republicans will quickly hang the Obama mantle around Barnes’ neck.

But enough about the Democrats, this is a Red State, right? It’s one of the Reddest of Red, but the race for governor could be a tossup because of a bitter GOP primary battle.

In this year of the Tea Party and “throw the bums out,” no one is safe. After a grueling primary and runoff, former Rep. Nathan Deal is now the Republican Party’s nominee for governor of Georgia. Only about 2,500 votes separated him from his opponent, former Secretary of State Karen Handel. But on Wednesday morning after the Republican “Unity Breakfast,” Karen Handel announced she would not ask for a recount of the 0.4% margin runoff. 

She verbally embraced Deal; a man she previously said was a “relic” and “corrupt.” She sent out a very classy letter. Deal is now touting her good Republican qualities, when only a few days ago he said he would need time to heal. Deal resigned his elected position to run full time in the gubernatorial race and may become the first-ever Georgia Republican to succeed a fellow GOP governor.

I emphasize “may.” There’s an investigative cloud hanging over Deal’s candidacy and, at Wednesday’s GaGOP Unity Breakfast, tension was in the air about what may come of that probe.
However, it was the star-studded endorsements during the campaign that ended up making the real political news.

The momentum o f the GOP battle started to change about three weeks before the July 20 primary. Handel, Deal and Eric Johnson were on the upswing and the long-time front runner, John Oxendine, was on the way down.

Then came a “one, two” punch for Handel with the endorsements of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin’s nod allowed Handel to leap-frog over her opponents and finish first in the primary, with Deal coming in second and forcing a runoff. Immediately after the primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed Handel.

On the other side of the primary runoff, Deal had received the endorsement of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich and Deal had worked together for years and that played well in the minds of voters. 

Then, with some polls showing Deal trailing Handel by 11 percentage points, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of the Georgia Republican primary for President in 2008, endorsed Deal and came to Georgia for a rally on the Sunday before the runoff.

The next day, Palin swooped into Georgia for a rally with Handel. A huge crowd gathered at a Buckhead hotel to see the former Alaska governor. I think that Handel received the bump she was going to get from Palin during the primary but for the runoff she would needed another bump from somewhere else.

Deal won on Tuesday by the narrowest of margins. It’s interesting that the guy with the most conventional following won. Georgia could be called the birthplace of the Tea Party Movement.

Three of its original organizers are in the Atlanta Tea Party movement. However, in the governor’s race, they seemed nowhere to be found. The traditional candidate won out.

This wasn’t a defeat for Palin. Without her endorsement, Handel would not have made the runoff.

The Barnes-Deal race for governor will be an interesting one. They were in the Georgia Senate together when Deal was a Democrat and Gov. Barnes appointed Deal’s son to be a district attorney. 

There is no doubt the debates will be lively. I would pay money and sit on the front row for the debates between Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes. 
It doesn’t look like there will be any August down time. Barnes is already up with his first TV ad.

And a funny thing, he doesn’t say he’s a Democrat anywhere in that ad. Maybe he’s worried about the Red State leanings of Georgia.