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Deal: Wounds from 'divisive' race will be slow to heal
Attack-fueled primary campaign ends with vote Tuesday
Nathan Deal, left, and Karen Handel face off in the final Republican gubernatorial debate Sunday sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club. Handel said Sunday night she would endorse Nathan Deal if he won the Republican nomination for governor. Deal refused to reciprocate as Georgia's bruising three-week GOP runoff for governor hurtled into the homestretch heading into Tuesday's runoff. - photo by Curtis Compton

After weeks of name-calling and bickering between campaigns, Karen Handel said Sunday that she will stand behind Nathan Deal if he is chosen to represent the Republican Party in Georgia's governor's race.

But Deal, Handel's opponent in a heated primary runoff election, was a little more hesitant to say he would support the former secretary of state.

The two candidates meet in a Tuesday runoff to decide which Republican will move on to November's general election against Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds.

They stood beside each other Sunday in their final debate by the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting before voters make that choice.

Responding to the first question, Handel said she would "absolutely" do what is "most important" to the Republican Party after what she called a "tenacious" and "spirited" campaign.

Deal, too, said he understood what was important to the party, but not without comment on the campaign's aggressive and often negative tone.

"It's going to take some time for us to heal some of the wounds that have been inflicted here," Deal said, noting that he did not think that he was the candidate who had run a "divisive" campaign.

When given the opportunity to ask a question of Deal, Handel asked the former U.S. representative why he thought it was appropriate for elected officials to do business with the state.

An auto salvage business Deal co-owns in Gainesville housed state inspectors for nearly 20 years until the state privatized the program. The deal with the state prompted a congressional ethics inquiry after Deal used his congressional resources to intervene when state officials first considered privatizing its inspection program for salvaged vehicles.

Deal stopped participating in the program last fall when it was privatized, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Deal told Handel that part-time elected officials need to continue making money, though for most of the time he had the deal, he was a full-time congressman. He said he didn't think people should be punished for public service.

Handel responded that "conflict of interest is a serious issue in our state," adding that she would support a move to make sure that the "people doing business of the people are not benefiting from doing business with the people."

Deal, given the chance to ask his own questions of Handel, asked her why she would not support a bill that would require "zero-based budgeting" of all state departments.

Handel responded that she does support zero-based budgeting, only that she does not need a legislative requirement to make it happen.

When both candidates were asked to outline their emergency plans for providing water to metro Atlanta if a federal court ruling severely limits Georgia's access to the resource in July 2012, Handel said she would "press hard" at the negotiating table to find an agreement with Alabama and Florida and encourage building smaller reservoirs.

"I'm going to work aggressively to make sure that we do have good solid progress," Handel said.

Deal also said he would seek successful negotiation and support local reservoirs. He said Georgia needed to fix leaking pipes to cut unnecessary water loss and allow the state to go to the judge "with clean hands."

Sunday's debate signifies the near end of a brutal campaign. Yet the two candidates still have much campaigning to do.

Handel is expected to rally Monday with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Buckhead in the final hours before polls open.

Deal is scheduled to fly around the state rallying last-minute support and media coverage before the election.