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Rep. Deal may join 2010 governor's race

State Sen. Eric Johnson declares candidacy Monday

POSTED: April 27, 2009 11:33 p.m.
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U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville

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U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal is seriously considering a bid for governor and could make an announcement as early as this week, sources close to the nine-term congressman said Monday.

The news about Deal came as state Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, joined the field of GOP candidates for governor on Monday.

Johnson had previously announced a bid for lieutenant governor and changed his mind after incumbent Casey Cagle announced he would abandon his gubernatorial campaign and seek re-election.

Deal, a Gainesville Republican who represents the 9th District in Congress, was to meet Monday afternoon in Washington with members of the “G-7,” the seven Republican House members from Georgia.

A key Deal supporter and a state lawmaker, both speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had been in touch with Deal and were planning to support his candidacy, should he decide to run.

Deal’s office in Washington would not comment on the record about his future political plans.

Deal would be no stranger to state politics; he served from 1980 to 1992 in the state Senate and served as president pro-tem.

Deal said Saturday that he had expected U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Sharpsburg, to run for governor and was stunned by Westmoreland’s announcement that he would seek another term in Congress.

If Deal runs for governor, it would create a vacancy in the 9th House District for the first time since 1992. Among those mentioned as possible contenders from the state legislature include Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, and Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger.

Others said to be eyeing a bid include former state Rep. Mike Evans, a Cumming Republican who is married to former transportation chief Gena Evans. Another name that has surfaced is former state Sen. Bill Stephens, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2006.

One name likely not to be on the ballot is Gainesville radio talk show host Martha Zoller, who said health issues in her family would keep her out of the race.

The member of Congress elected next year would serve one term before the district is reapportioned following the 2010 census.

Growth in North Georgia is likely to bring significant changes in the geographic footprint of the district.

Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, announced he was staying put and would not join the field in the governor’s race. In his announcement, Kingston said he was “encouraged” by Johnson’s entry into the race, but stopped short of an endorsement.

“I’ve worked closely with Eric for many years and would be comfortable with his candidacy,” Kingston said in a statement released by his office.

Johnson was in Gainesville on Saturday campaigning at the Spring Chicken Festival. A Cagle spokesman said Johnson had spoken with his boss over the weekend and informed him of his decision. It is not known if Johnson paid a visit to the Cagle home in Chestnut Mountain.

Johnson joins Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and Ray McBerry of McDonough in the Republican race for governor.

Announced Democratic candidates include state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin and David Poythress, former assistant attorney general, deputy revenue commissioner and secretary of state.

Also running is Libertarian candidate John Monds.



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