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Deal takes on Handel in 2nd leg of triple crown
Republican candidate for governor Nathan Deal spent most of his day after the primary making phone calls and doing television interviews. - photo by Tom Reed
Election calendar

Aug. 10: State primary runoff
Sept. 21: Special election to fill vacancies
Oct. 4: Last day to register to vote in general election
Nov. 2: General election
Nov. 30: General election runoff, if needed

For the two Republicans in the race to be Georgia’s next governor, this is the second leg of the Triple Crown.

At least that’s how Nathan Deal refers to his campaign for the Republican nomination.

For the next three weeks, he and former Secretary of State Karen Handel will campaign for one final chance to face Democratic nominee Roy Barnes in November — the third leg of the gubernatorial Triple Crown.

Both have little time to raise enough money to get their message out in media markets across the state and to hone their messages to a game of one-on-one.

Representatives of both candidates said each spent much of the day after Tuesday’s primary either in front of news cameras or on the phone rounding up support and campaign contributions.

“We’re very, very busy, but in an exciting and positive way,” said Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Handel’s campaign.

But “positive” likely won’t be the way most describe the next three weeks of campaigning, because the fervor to finish first already has the two camps slinging negativity — expensive negativity.

By June 30, Deal reported spending $1.93 million in his campaign. Handel spent a little more than half that.

“Congressman Deal ran an extraordinarily negative television campaign in the primary; we expect that will be the same modus operandi in the runoff,” said McLagan. “We’re going to  need to have sufficient funds to combat whatever phony attacks he comes up with and to get out Karen’s positive message.”

Already, the Deal camp is trying to paint Handel as a liberal and a liar who is more concerned with climbing the political ladder than finishing the task at hand.

Handel was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights organization that endorsed both her 2002 and 2003 election bids for the Fulton County Commission — a fact she denied, according to a political fact checking service Politifact Georgia.

“It’s not phony to say she’s the only candidate in this (Republican) race who’s gotten a ‘pants on fire’ rating from Politifact,” said Deal’s communications director Brian Robinson. “That’s her distinction in this race. She’s the only one who’s been declared a fraud. .. because Lord knows her policy doesn’t distinguish her because she has no policy argument. All she does is speak in platitudes — empty platitudes — about 21st century government without ever telling Georgians what she’s talking about.”

Handel is portraying Deal as a career politician and a Washington insider who was a “soldier on the Democratic side under Clinton.”
Deal was originally elected to the U.S. House as a Democrat in 1992. He switched to the Republican party in 1995.

“What he brings to the table are Washington, D.C., answers to Georgia’s challenges,” said McLagan. “ We think that Washington, D.C., does not have a very good track record to providing good solutions to problems in Georgia or anywhere else.”

Neither thinks the other is the candidate Georgia’s Republicans want representing them in November’s election.

McLagan says Handel is the only candidate with a plan to permanently reduce the size of state government.

Deal, on the other hand, has more than once said that his plan to jump-start Georgia’s economy is the only one that’s been vetted by an outside organization.

Handel received an endorsement from former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney Wednesday, and McLagan said the campaign will be rolling out the names of more “high-profile supporters” in the coming days.

But Deal’s camp, without the endorsements of conservative superstars like former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin (who endorsed Handel), touts the support of Georgians who have represented Georgians.

“Sec. Handel seems to be focused a lot on people who can’t vote in Georgia,” said Robinson. “We welcome people’s interest in our state; we hope they’ll come here and spend money and help our economy. We have Newt Gingrich’s endorsement, which carries a lot more weight here... we have the leadership of the state House and the state Senate with our campaign. These are Georgians elected by Georgians, and that’s what we’re interested in here.”

Both candidates are looking for the blessing of two Republican candidates who fell short Tuesday of the runoff election.

A nod from either former state Sen. Eric Johnson or Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine could allow either candidate to scoop up the support previously betrothed to the eliminated candidates.

Johnson and Oxendine received a combined 37 percent of the Republican votes tallied Tuesday.

Johnson fell three percentage points short of Deal, who landed a spot in the runoff with the support of 22.9 percent of Republican voters. Handel led the pack with 34.1 percent of Republican votes.

On Tuesday night, Deal told The Times he landed “right where we want to be for the runoff.”

The former congressman said he made a lot of friends in the run up to the primary with “face-to-face politicking.”

But Deal’s campaign on television didn’t reach much farther than the Atlanta and Macon markets, and he has a 13 percentage point margin to make up by Aug. 10. And that, too, will cost.

“Obviously, a lot has to be done besides that,” Deal said. “We did not have as much money to go up on television as much as we would have liked to have done. Hopefully, we’ll be able to remedy that in the runoff.”

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