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Huckabee gives Deal camp a boost
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Another superstar has shined a light on Georgia’s gubernatorial race.

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee threw his conservative weight behind Nathan Deal on Thursday, calling the former congressman “battle-tested” to fight for Georgians in a statement released by his political action committee.

“No doubt in my mind that Nathan is uniquely qualified to be governor,” a Huckabee spokesman said in an e-mail.

In 2008, Huckabee won the majority of Republican votes in Georgia’s presidential primary. Thursday afternoon, Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, called the endorsement from Huckabee “huge news for the campaign.”

Deal is seeking the Republican nomination in the governor’s race. He faces former Secretary of State Karen Handel in a runoff Tuesday.

“It adds a few more miles per hour to the gigantic momentum that we’ve garnered this week, and it is indicative of the storyline, which is the people who know Nathan Deal trust him as a leader and as a visionary,” Robinson said.

Handel has had her fair share of superstar support. Former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is expected to campaign Monday with Handel in Georgia. Her endorsement of Handel days before the July 20 primary was attributed to Handel’s increasing support in the final days before that election.

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney also endorsed Handel after the July 20 primary election.

The Deal campaign stopped short of mocking the endorsements from Palin and Romney last month, calling for the national conservative icons to come to Georgia and moderate debates between Handel and Deal and touting other endorsements from “Georgians who have represented Georgians.”

In a statement, Huckabee said he knew Deal personally, working with the congressman on Medicaid reform when Huckabee was chairman of a GOP governors association.

“He wasn’t afraid of a fight then and he’s not afraid of a fight now,” the Huckabee statement read. “Nathan is battle tested — and that’s what Georgia needs now more than ever.”

Huckabee’s spokesman would not say if his endorsement of Deal would come with a check, only that Huckabee’s people “are weighing all options for supporting Nathan.”

Huckabee also took sides in to U.S. House runoffs. He endorsed Tom Graves in the 9th District Republican runoff. Graves, who won the seat in a special election last month, faces Gainesville dentist Lee Hawkins on Tuesday. Huckabee also endorsed Rob Woodall, former chief of staff to Rep. John Linder, in the 7th District Republican runoff.

Handel, while campaigning Thursday in Athens, touted her own high-profile endorsements.

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of Sarah Palin,” Handel said. “I’m honored to have the endorsement of Gov. (Jan) Brewer out of Arizona. I’m honored to have the endorsements of more than 100 elected officials here in Georgia.”

Most Republican state legislators are backing Deal, citing his experience. Deal is a former state senator, and Handel has a history of attacking what she calls the frat house atmosphere and good ol’ boy politics under the Gold Dome.

The two top-ranking members of the state House, Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Alpharetta, have questioned whether Palin should be meddling in Georgia politics.

“I know that, on Aug. 11, everyone is going to come together for the greater cause, and the greater cause is doing what’s best for the people of Georgia and making sure that (Democratic nominee) Roy Barnes doesn’t get his hands on this state,” Handel said Thursday.

Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald, a member of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership, contributed to this story.