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Gubernatorial candidates ready to spar on issues
Republican nominee for governor Nathan Deal shares a laugh with Lori Geary of WSB-TV after one of many interviews with various Atlanta media outlets in Deal’s Gainesville campaign office Wednesday. - photo by Tom Reed

Now that there's a clear Republican nominee in Georgia's governor's race, the candidates representing Georgia's two major political parties say they are ready to take on the issues important to Georgians.

But that didn't stop Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes from taking at least small swipes at each other Wednesday.

Though she could have requested a recount of Republican votes cast in Tuesday's runoff primary election, Karen Handel conceded the party's nomination to Deal Wednesday morning, citing a need to unite the party to defeat Barnes, the Democratic nominee.

"Barnes would return Georgia to a past that is best kept in our rearview mirror," the former secretary of state said in a statement. "We must marshal all of our resources to defeat him."

The statement was a complete turn-around from a three-week runoff campaign in which Handel painted Deal as a "corrupt relic of Washington" belonging to Georgia's "good ol' boy" network.

But Deal called her gracious.

"Nathan thanked her, congratulated her on a fantastic and hard-fought campaign and told her that he appreciated her graciousness," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. "It's very exciting for us and it's a great relief.

"Now we as Republicans can focus all of our energy on victory in November and defeating Roy Barnes."

Deal finished out Tuesday's voting with 50.2 percent of the vote, meaning 49.8 percent of Georgia's Republicans voted against him.

After such a divisive primary race, Deal is also charged with bringing his party back together for the November election.

As Republicans attended a breakfast in the name of party unity in Atlanta Sunday, most of the party's nominees were introduced by their opponents in the party primary.

In Deal's case, Handel wasn't there.

"She obviously was evaluating what the situation was, and I understand that," Deal said. "It was a long night for everybody."

Barnes, who aired his first campaign ad for the general election before the polls closed for the Republican runoff Tuesday, congratulated Deal on his success in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

He said he was ready to take on the new Republican nominee in the race for the governor's mansion.

"But it doesn't matter who my opponent is, this election is about the serious issues facing all Georgians, not the out-of-state endorsements and sideline issues that the other team has used to divide voters," Barnes said in a statement. "After years of ethics violations, teacher furloughs, tax breaks to special interests, homes foreclosed and misplaced priorities, our state is falling behind. I have a plan to tackle the serious issues that face our state, and I don't need on the job training - I have the experience to make Georgia work."

Deal, too, said he hoped the coming months would be focused on issues.

Deal said his campaign will focus on "common sense, practical solutions" to what he said would be the defining issues of the race: education, public safety, health care, transportation and water.

Deal said Barnes' proposals to attack those issues were unrealistic and irresponsible.

"I'm sure that a lot of people would like to go back and remember what it was like prior to the last eight years as well and make comparisons and contrasts that resulted in the people of Georgia rejecting (Barnes) for his re-election bid," Deal said. "Those are very valid comparisons and contrasts. I think the fact is, we live in very different economic times now than we did when he was in office."