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Deal: Were going to be responsible
Candidate vows to pay off loan; political fallout uncertain
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Nathan Deal is in a precarious financial situation, though how his troubles will affect his gubernatorial bid is uncertain.

Deal campaign spokesman Brian Robinson said the Republican nominee is prepared to repay the more than $2 million he owes on a business loan taken out for his daughter's failed Habersham County business.

Deal is trying to sell the commercial property on Ga. 365 as well as his Gainesville home before the loan comes due in February.

"He is not insolvent; he is not going to declare bankruptcy," Robinson said. "He and his wife are going to meet their financial obligations."

Robinson said he doesn't think Deal's personal finances will have any bearing on his bid for the state's top office.

"It shows that he is a real person and faces the same challenges as all other Georgians," Robinson said. "Most Georgians have lost money over the last four years. Everybody has seen the values of their assets drop."

Deal is challenging Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds in the Nov. 2 election.

"I am real. I'm like other Georgians. I face these same challenges. Like other Georgians, we're going to be responsible," Deal said Wednesday at an impromptu press conference at his Atlanta campaign office. "We're going to stand by our children. We believe that's the right thing to do. We did it then and we will stand by them now."

Ross Alexander, a professor of political science at North Georgia College & State University, said it is likely that Deal's debt could change the course of the race.

"The Deal revelation with regard to his finances was shocking. The fact that his campaign acknowledged the seriousness of his tenuous financial situation was also telling," Alexander said. "I think this will have a significant impact on the race both in terms of how voters view him as a candidate and also how potential donors to his campaign view him as a viable winner. The emergence of his financial problems will surely be highlighted by Barnes' team over and over until November."

Barnes' campaign declined to comment on the story Wednesday.

Tom Crawford, editor of The Georgia Report and whose columns appear weekly in The Times, said other candidates have been able to make it past the finish line despite personal financial troubles.

"It certainly doesn't help (Deal) but I'm not sure how much it hurts him. As in the case of (U.S. Rep) Tom Graves, a lot of times voters shrug that stuff off and vote for them anyway," Crawford said.

In July, Graves won the 9th District House seat formerly held by Deal after being sued by a Georgia bank for defaulting on a loan. Bartow County Bank alleged that Graves was insolvent and transferred property out of his name to thwart the bank's efforts to collect on the debt.

"Given the current political environment, the fact that Nathan has an ‘R' after his name may be enough to bring him home to victory in the governor's race no matter how many negative stories the media puts out there about his personal finances," Crawford said.

Crawford also expects that Deal's financial situation will be fodder for the Barnes campaign.

"That's pretty standard when something like this pops up in a political race," Crawford said. "That's probably the next thing to watch for is the Roy Barnes campaign going to capitalize on this, and if they do, how soon will they be going up with their own TV spots that mention Nathan's financial situation."

In 2005, Deal and his wife, Sandra, invested about $2 million in Wilder Outdoors, an outdoor sporting goods store started by their daughter and son-in-law, Carrie and Clint Wilder.

The Deals also signed on as guarantors for a series of business loans for the store as the business struggled in subsequent years.

In 2009, Wilder Outdoors closed and the Wilders filed for bankruptcy shortly afterward, leaving the Deals with the debt of the failed business.

Robinson said Deal is optimistic that the sale of the Wilder Outdoors commercial property near Alto, valued at $700,000, and the sale of his Gainesville home, listed for sale at $985,000, will go a long way toward covering the obligations.

"Nathan suffered significant losses. But he was investing in a child and it was something he and Sandra believed in," Robinson said.

Much of Deal's debt is owed to a South Carolina bank, SCBT, which acquired Community Bank and Trust of Cornelia after regulators shut it down in January. The North Georgia bank granted a loan of about $1 million for the store in 2006, increased it by $252,000 in 2007 and made a new loan of $2.4 million in 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said.

"I've made good investments in the past and I've made a bad investment," Deal said. "But I stick by my obligations. But more importantly, I stick by my family."

Times reporter Carolyn Crist and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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