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Deal making 'everything public' about governor's race on Friday

10 a.m. event will be outside Hall courthouse

POSTED: April 29, 2009 3:47 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal has reserved the plaza between the old and current Hall County courthouses on Friday and is expected to announce he is entering the race for governor.

Deal has asked to use Kenyon Plaza for a 10 a.m. event.

"Friday is the day where we make everything public and go from there," he told The Associated Press in Washington on Wednesday.

His comments were the first public remarks since rumors surfaced over the weekend that the nine-term lawmaker was eyeing a bid for the state’s top office.

Congressional aides and a fellow lawmaker who’ve been briefed on his plans confirmed the news but requested anonymity because they were asked not to discuss his plans publicly ahead of a formal announcement.

Deal, a one-time Democrat and former state senator, is one of the most senior members of Georgia’s congressional delegation. Elected to Congress in 1992, he has long been mentioned as a candidate for statewide office but only recently surfaced as a potential challenger for the 2010 gubernatorial race.

He said he began strongly thinking about running after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — an early Republican favorite — withdrew for health reasons. Until then, Deal said he had planned to defer to Cagle, who shares much of the same North Georgia political base.

"I’ve had a lot of support," Deal said. "Given my state and federal background, I think I do understand government issues, and that’s important for a gubernatorial candidate to have."

Among those mentioned as likely Deal supporters is state House Speaker Glenn Richardson. However, a Richardson spokesman said Wednesday that his boss has not made an endorsement in the race.

Deal is a senior member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over vast sections of the economy, including health care and energy issues. He is the top Republican on the Health subcommittee, where he has helped lead negotiations on issues such as Medicaid reform and health insurance for low-income children.

He also has been involved in immigration, sponsoring legislation in 2005 that would end automatic birthright citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants.

Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz described Deal as "pretty low profile."

"It’s hard to think of something he’s known for," Abramowitz said.

Abramowitz said Secretary of State Karen Handel and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine — who have already won statewide office — would have to be considered the early front-runners in the race. But the size of the field makes that hard to predict.

He said the large number of GOP candidates "makes it virtually certain you’re going to have a runoff."

"These candidates are known for a bare knuckles approach and I do think it’s going to get pretty nasty. There could be an opening for the Democrats," Abramowitz said.

Of course, the Democrats could also have a tough primary battle, he said. So it depends on how that race shapes up.

Meanwhile, a University of Georgia political scientist said Deal has as much or more name recognition as any candidate in the race for governor.

"Nathan represents one-thirteenth of the state and his district has changed, so he has probably represented one-eighth of the population at one time," said Charles Bullock. "Many of the folks could not tell you who the insurance commissioner or secretary of state is."

Oxendine and Handel are the two Republican statewide officials who have announced their candidacy. State Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and state Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, are also running.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard commander David Poythress are running. Former Gov. Roy Barnes is also eyeing the contest and has said he will decide whether to jump in by June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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