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Deal’s Lake Lanier event brings out candidates

Hopefuls for House seat, 2012 races join crowd at the governor’s cookout

POSTED: October 9, 2011 1:10 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Gov. Nathan Deal talks with a group of supporters Saturday during the first "Grilling with the Governor" event at the Lake Lanier Olympic venue in Gainesville.

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It may not be an election year for most, but balloons and pulled pork barbecue are a good indicator that it's still campaign season in Georgia.

Or maybe they just add to what Gov. Nathan Deal calls "political overtones."

Saturday, Deal was host of a hometown party — replete with catered barbecue, music from the Jesters and souvenir T-shirts — at the Lake Lanier Olympic venue for those who supported him in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Perhaps the start of an annual tradition, the three-hour lakeside barbecue was billed as a "thank you" event to his backers who paid $15 to eat lunch, get a T-shirt and earn a chance to chat with the governor.

For Deal, it was a chance to be seen by supporters when he wasn't asking for any immediate favors.

For several other local political hopefuls, however, the $15 fee offered a chance at face time with more than 500 people who have already shown a willingness to get behind a political campaign.

Attorney Sonny Sykes was among the candidates seeking support from Deal's supporters. Sykes is one of seven men seeking to win a Nov. 8 special election to represent South Hall in the General Assembly.

Sykes said he and his wife spent their morning waving campaign signs at several South Hall intersections. The day before, he spent hours meeting with local business owners, he said. Less than a week ago, he qualified for the election.

"Some people are going to spend a lot of money in this race," Sykes said. "I'm going to spend a lot of time."
Most of the Republican candidates seeking James Mills' vacated seat made an appearance at Deal's campaign event Saturday afternoon, most with campaign paraphernalia of some sort.

Emory Dunahoo Jr. arrived in a vehicle with a campaign logo emblazoned on the rear window.

Likewise, Bobby Banks, a former Hall County commissioner, and his wife, Connie, ate lunch wearing their "Banks for State House" stickers. So far, Banks said he's spent his days making phone calls and sending mail to some 3,100 potential supporters.

And his presence at Grillin' with the Governor simply had to do with the fact that "there's a lot of people here."

Flowery Branch Councilman Kris Yardley, who also attended, claimed he was not there to campaign for the seat. He wore no badge, carried no flyers.

"This is the governor's event," Yardley said.

Other candidates for the seat include Republicans Todd Reed and Dominic Ottaviano and Democrat Paul Godfrey.

Mills left the post last week following an appointment by the governor to the state Pardons and Paroles Board.

But even candidates who won't see their names on the ballot for more than a year pressed the flesh at Deal's party.

"This event's really about the governor. I'm a strong supporter of the governor, and have been and always will be," said radio personality Martha Zoller, who wore a "Martha! for Congress" pin on her shirt. She is seeking to represent Georgia's freshly minted U.S. House 9th District, which is anchored in Hall County, in next year's election.

"But yeah, this is a great opportunity to meet people, to see in one spot a lot of the people that you're going to be going to their meetings and speaking in front of," Zoller added.

State House Rep. Doug Collins also has declared he's running for the congressional seat.

Jon P. Strickland, who is running for Hall County sheriff in 2012, said Grillin' with the Governor just "seemed like the place to be."

With the sheriff's election more than a year away, Strickland had his intentions embroidered in his golf shirt and had a full day of campaigning planned. He passed out stickers with his name on them to everyone he greeted.

"I want to let people know what I'm about and who I'm about and I want to focus on what I can do for the sheriff's office," Strickland said.

Other declared candidates for that post include former law officers Richard Blevins and Rickey Tumlin and current Hall County chief Deputy Jeff Strickland (no relation to Jon. P. Strickland).

Though Saturday's event was dubbed a "thank you" event, Deal made no bones about the fact that he was getting ready for another election in 2014.

In a brief address to the crowd, Deal announced that Tom Willis, his personal aide, is returning to Deal's Gainesville headquarters to serve as campaign manager.

Already this year, Deal has reported more than a half million dollars in contributions for an election that is more than three years away.

"We're here, and we intend to be here," Deal said.



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