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Crawford: Will voters have to do it all over again?
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Will the election year end when the votes are tallied on Nov. 2?

The possibility looms that Georgians will have to endure a four-week runoff campaign before they finally determine the winner of the governor's race. While Nathan Deal has been the leader over Roy Barnes in every poll released since the primaries, he has fallen short of the 50 percent level required by state law to win a general election.

Why do we find ourselves trapped in this campaign that seemingly will never end? The reason cited most often by the experts is the negative nature of the campaigns run by Deal and Barnes. There has been a lot of mud flung in this one, and these kinds of campaigns can discourage people from voting or motivate them to cast their ballot for a Libertarian candidate in protest.

I think we're also seeing the residual effects of a bitter Republican primary, where Deal won the nomination by about 2,500 votes over Karen Handel after both candidates ripped each other to shreds with nasty, personal attacks.

Those wounds take a long time to heal and they have caused a lot of hard feelings towards Deal within his own party. One of the most interesting aspects of this race has been how some of the most pointed criticisms of Deal have come from his Republican colleagues.

At a speech last week before a women's group, her first public appearance since losing the Republican runoff, Handel was asked by reporters if she supported Deal's candidacy for governor. "I support the ticket," was the best she could do.

Clint Murphy, a GOP operative from the Savannah area, made this recent posting on a Republican website:

"While some of you sit back and justify Nathan Deal's various excuses and reasons that he abused his Congressional Office for his personal gain and make light of the Congressional Ethics Investigation because of the group which made the actual referral, it doesn't change the facts of the alleged abuses made by Deal or carried out by his office, nor does it absolve him of responsibility for cheapening the office of a U.S. Member of the House of Representatives and the shame that it brings on an already tainted Congress."

It should be noted that Murphy was a top aide in the Handel campaign. But it's still amazing that a criticism that harsh came not from Barnes or a Democratic activist, but from a Republican with a long record of work for the party.

A Republican Party activist from White County, Mike Carter, resigned his seat on the GOP's state committee because of his concerns about Deal, saying this on his Facebook page:

"Nathan Deal's situation is not simply about helping a family member realize a business dream that failed ... this is about how he has handled everything as a U.S. Congressman and now candidate for governor of the state of Georgia."

Tom Perdue, a veteran consultant who ran Saxby Chambliss' campaign two years ago, said of Deal and his personal financial problems: "He should step down as the nominee. People in the party feel betrayed and they feel cheated because if they had known about all of this earlier, there would have been a different nominee."

Those kinds of comments suggest why Deal could end up being pushed into a runoff with Barnes. Does that give Barnes and the Democrats reason to hope that they could yet win this race in a runoff? I don't think so.

One thing you can say with certainty about Georgia politics is that Republicans show up and vote in runoff elections. Democrats don't. In every case where a statewide race has been decided in a runoff, the Republican candidate has won even if he finished second in the general election.

Chuck Eaton ran behind PSC member David Burgess in 2006, but overtook him in the runoff. Bubba McDonald finished second to Jim Powell in the 2008 PSC election but crushed him in the runoff with more than 56 percent of the vote.

Republicans simply do a better job of getting their voters back to the polls. A runoff between Deal and Barnes, if that should come to pass, would likely follow the same pattern.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 

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