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Deal spends last of campaign with longtime supporters
Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal walks towards a crowd with wife Sandra after landing Monday at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville. Deal made six stops around the state in preparation for today’s runoff election. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Palin pumps extra energy into Handel's campaign

Who can vote?

Today is runoff election day across Georgia. Anyone who was registered to vote by June 21 is eligible to vote today, regardless of whether they voted in the July 20 primary. But for those who voted July 20, they must choose the same party ballot as they chose last month.

Three weeks after finishing the primary some 11 percentage points behind Karen Handel, Nathan Deal told supporters Monday he was “on the verge of victory.”

Home again after a seven-stop media tour at airports across the state, Deal asked about 100 of his longtime supporters gathered at the Gainesville airport Monday to stick with him through another day of what has, so far, been a 15-month campaign for the former U.S. House representative.

“We’ve got one more night to go, let’s not let up,” he said.

Polls open at 7 a.m. today, giving voters one final chance to decide on a Republican candidate for governor. Deal and Handel have spent the last three weeks in a head-to-head battle in the hopes of coming out with at least the 50 percent plus one endorsement of the electorate that July’s candidate-crowded primary afforded neither of them.

Handel finished in July with 34.1 percent of the Republican vote, while Deal had 22.9 percent. Recent polls have both showed Handel with a slight lead over Deal and the two candidates in a statistical tie for the nomination.

With only a few hours to go before the runoff, Deal spent what could be his final campaign moments much like he did the day before the July 20 primary.

He stopped at airports in some of the state’s most far-reaching media markets before returning to Gainesville for one final rally surrounded by longtime friends.

Though the last-minute media strategy was similar, Deal said Monday that the energy for this campaign was different from the primary.

“There’s some things happening in this race,” Deal said. “Momentum is moving our way, and it’s moving rapidly.”

Stopping in Atlanta, Columbus, Albany, Macon, Savannah and Augusta, Deal said he discovered new supporters who had previously backed candidates in the race who were eliminated in July’s primary.

Deal said he had also seen support from former Handel supporters in “overwhelming numbers.”

“This is something that’s unusual,” Deal said. “It’s not normal in most political races to see that kind of defection. And the reason, of course, is they have been turned off by the negativity of Mrs. Handel’s campaign. That’s the reason that they cite.”

Some of the supporters gathered at the Gainesville airport Monday said they were supporting Deal for just that reason.

“Every time Nathan says something, it’s so positive, and people are really looking for a positive influence right now,” said Connie Propes, a 70-year-old Gainesville resident who said she once worked for the Deal campaign.

Wearing khaki overalls and carrying a miniature American flag, Propes waited with others for Deal’s plane to arrive.

And many, like Propes, said they were longtime friends of the Deal family. Abby Musselwhite, a 20-year-old Gainesville resident, said she has supported Deal since she was 2.

“He’s more of a big teddy bear and a family member to me than anything else,” Musselwhite said.

Watching her “teddy bear” take on a tumultuous, and often combative campaign, hasn’t been easy, Musselwhite said.

“It’s been difficult at times, just because, of course, I want to defend him, you know,” she said. “I think he’s done well handling himself and keeping true to his values and not sinking to anybody’s level, you know, not just his competitor but anybody around him.”

Since July, the campaign for the Republican nomination has become more like a full-contact sport, with each candidate crying foul over the other’s negative tactics.

Deal said Monday that those who had come to his campaign “finally understood you cannot destroy the party of which you’re a member and then expect to be successful in November.”

“When it gets down to this point in the game, (Tuesday) is the day when we’ll decide who our party nominates to be the person to go against Roy Barnes in November,” Deal said. “Many of you have worked very hard and very long to make the Republican Party the dominant party in the state of Georgia.”

But in an appearance with Deal’s opponent Monday afternoon, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said it would be Handel who would hold dear the values of Georgia’s conservative voters.

Palin headlined a rally for Handel in a Buckhead hotel Monday, saying the former secretary of state would “fight like a mama grizzly” and “help usher out the state’s “good ol’ boy network.”
Handel, of Alpharetta, is running to become Georgia’s first female governor.

While Palin vouched for Handel’s conservative credentials in Buckhead, calling Handel a “self-made, strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps,” Deal’s tour around the state had its own answer to a conservative female leader.

Appearing with Deal at airports across the state was state House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, the first woman to hold such a high-ranking office in the Georgia General Assembly.

And, as Deal noted at the Gainesville airport Monday, “she just so happens to be from Fulton County, folks.”

“I have the support of the good ol’ girl network, too,” he said.