It was Nathan Deal's birthday, but the celebration at Gainesville's Smithgall Arts Center Wednesday had little to do with the Republican gubernatorial candidate's age.
Instead, as guests that included Georgia Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart chatted around a cake in the shape of Georgia's Capitol building, the purpose clearly went beyond an Aug. 25 date of birth.
Everhart, who stayed silent during a heated primary runoff battle between Deal and former Secretary of State Karen Handel, came to Deal's birthday celebration to show she is ready to make sure her party holds on to the state's top job.
Deal celebrated 68 years Wednesday at a party complete with live music and inflatable bounce castles. But for Everhart, the real reason for the revelry was to rally Georgia's Republicans.
"It just turned out that it's his birthday," said Everhart. "... I know we've got to work hard, but we are going to be victorious in November. We are going to keep that governor's mansion."
If Everhart's presence wasn't sign enough that Republicans can now unite behind a common enemy on the Democratic ticket, Republican candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black tried to demonstrate party unity by preparing the meal for the party.
In July, Black defeated Darwin Carter for the party's nomination in the agriculture commissioner's race. He now faces Democrat J.B. Powell and Libertarian Kevin Cherry in November's general election.
Black said it was important for the future leader of Georgia's largest industry to "work hand in hand" with Georgia's chief executive.
He said he expected he and Deal would be those two people to work together.
"It's about rallying the grassroots, and we want to take an active role today," Black said.
To Hall County Republican Party Chairman Jim Pilgrim, the "essence" of Deal's birthday party was the "camaraderie of the Republican Party."
He cited a number of local Republican Party chair people who had driven to Gainesville for the cause.
While some of the state's top Republicans said the party was meant to stir up a feeling of unity, others said the party was a sign that healing had already begun after an intense election cycle that fractured the party in a series of divisive primary campaigns.
While Democrat Roy Barnes began to put his campaign together for November's general election, Republicans weathered another three weeks of primary campaigning as Deal and Handel battled it out for the nomination.
"Republicans are together and looking forward to the future," said Lee Hawkins, a former state senator who resigned for an unsuccessful run for Deal's old seat in the U.S. House.
Guests made a $25 donation to Deal's campaign to enter the three-hour event Wednesday and enjoy the music, eat barbecue chicken and give Deal a personal birthday greeting.
Some wrote messages on a white board for the GOP gubernatorial candidate.
"Perhaps you were ‘born for such a time as this,'" one message read. Another, written by two supporters from Blairsville, called Deal, "the most honest politician we know."
Supporters who didn't come to the party were
encouraged by a campaign e-mail to send a donation in their stead.
But for Deal, the party was a way to thank friends who have supported him since he started his bid for the governor's mansion in May 2009.
Deal said the people of Hall County had embraced his family and his political pursuits. The party, he said, was "just another example of that."
"Many of the people who are here tonight have helped us in that regard over and above perhaps what you would normally expect," said Deal. "...I don't think there's been a campaign that's had that kind of support."