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Runoff analysis: Deal took rural areas, Handel won urban locations
GOP governor's vote shows clear split between rural, urban voters
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Election Guide: A look at the fall matchups

The results from Tuesday's runoff election between Nathan Deal and Karen Handel show a clear divide between rural and urban Georgians.

And in the rare occasion that the metro Atlanta vote didn't trump all, rural Georgia won an election for Deal.

Deal won the most votes in 102 of Georgia's 159 counties and tied with Handel in one county, Charlton County, where voters split 149 to 149 over the two Republican hopefuls.

The support of what were mostly rural areas gave Deal 50.2 percent of the vote, a narrow majority that affords him another three months on the campaign trail to face former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, and John Monds, a Libertarian.

It's a big move for a candidate who consistently polled in third place leading up to July's primary election, and ended that election some 11 percentage points behind Handel, Georgia's former secretary of state.

Handel, who on Tuesday earned the most votes in Georgia's urban areas, lost steam in rural Georgia, where voters who went to the polls in July mostly supported losing candidates such as former state Sen. Eric Johnson and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

One political scientist attributes the loss to "a strategic error" in Handel's primary campaign and perhaps the unwillingness of some rural Georgians to have a female governor.

"(Handel) lumped all three of her major opponents together," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. "... A kind of theme of her campaign was ‘these other three guys have all got ethical problems. I'm the one honest person in this race.'"

In a race stacked with candidates and sure to end in a runoff, the strategy left Handel standing alone when she needed support from other candidates' areas to win the second leg of the race.

"Usually ... a candidate who knows there's going to be a runoff will try to make their pitch so that they will have an entree to one or more of the serious candidates who gets eliminated, or at least to their supporters," Bullock said. "It seems to me Handel needlessly antagonized supporters of Oxendine and Eric Johnson."

When all the votes were counted for the runoff, Deal carried all but a few of the counties where Johnson and Oxendine garnered the most votes in July's primary.

For months, those watching the race said support from metro Atlanta would be imperative for any successful statewide candidate.

Even in metro areas, where Handel performed best, Deal closed in on Handel's original primary lead.

Deal won the most votes in Gwinnett County Tuesday, taking the lead from Handel who had almost 38 percent of the vote there in July when seven candidates were on the Republican ticket.

Deal also gained ground in Forsyth County, a 9th District county in the reach of metro Atlanta where Handel prevailed in July. On Tuesday, Deal narrowed Handel's lead in Forsyth from 981 to 277 votes.

Handel did manage to take Catoosa County out from under Deal's 9th District comfort zone on Tuesday, winning some 95 more votes than the former congressman. Aside from metro Atlanta, Handel found the most support in counties around Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Savannah and Valdosta.

And while she did carry a few rural counties such as Brooks and Early counties, Deal's support in rural Georgia was overwhelming.

Gender may have played a role, Bullock said.

"To the extent that there are folks out there who don't think women belong in politics or would be troubled by having a woman governor, they're probably more likely found in a rural than a more cosmopolitan area," Bullock said. "If you live in an urban area, you're fairly used to seeing women in a whole variety of roles, whether it's the president of the Rotary club or the manager of this or whatever. You're used to seeing that."

Whether Deal will stay successful in rural Georgia will depend on the impact of Barnes' recent campaigning in the southern reaches of the state and the ability for the Republican Party to reunite before November, Bullock said.

"This is not such a red state that if the Republicans were to go into November badly divided that you necessarily win," said Bullock. "Maybe there wouldn't be many Republicans or supporters of these candidates who would vote for Roy Barnes. But if they were really alienated from Nathan Deal and his campaign, they might just skip over that contest."

 

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