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Our Views: Getting out to stay in
Deals exit from Congress for governors race is all part of modern mad scramble for office
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Poll: Do you think Deal should step down?

Election Guide

Election calendar
March 16: Special election to fill vacancies
April 26-30: Candidate qualifying
June 21: Deadline to register for primary
July 20: State primary
Aug. 10: State primary runoff, if needed
Sept. 21: Special election to fill vacancies
Oct. 4: Deadline to register for general election
Nov. 2: General election
Nov. 30: General election runoff, if needed

There was a time, a century or more ago, when politicians felt it was beneath them to campaign lustily for public office. In fact, many candidates would barely go stumping at all, feeling the call to service should be answered with reticence and humility.

William McKinley, our 25th president, didn't even leave his Ohio home for much of his first campaign for the White House in 1896. Hesitant to leave his invalid wife's side, McKinley would make a few remarks from his front porch for the gathered crowd and that would be it.

Compare that mindset to the kind of big-money, 24/7 fundraising, hat-in-hand pols we see today. They start running for office years before a single vote is cast, most of the early effort spent raising money and forming an organization. They hustle their "product" — themselves — on every cable TV or talk radio show that will find them a seat and pontificate on issues far and wide long before the first ballot is printed.

Perhaps this mad scramble is why it is increasingly difficult for politicians to handle one job while running for another. We speak, of course, of U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who surprised many with the sudden resignation of his House seat on the first day of the month.

Deal, running for the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, found it difficult to manage a home state campaign while toiling in Washington. That wasn't a problem during his eight previous re-election campaigns, but those weren't nearly as competitive as the battle Deal now finds himself in for governor.

So to give himself both the time and the money-raising edge he needs before the July 20 primary, Deal decided to step down after nearly 18 years in Congress, though he will hang around through the month in hopes of casting a "no" vote for the Democrats' still-evolving health care bill.

When Deal departs, Gov. Sonny Perdue will decide when a special, nonpartisan election will fill the 9th District seat until the new Congress convenes in January and a permanent representative takes office. Depending on when such a vote is held, whoever earns the short-term seat might not spend much time in Washington before the November winner takes over. Unless, of course, it's the same person.

One oddball scenario would have the contenders for the seat face off in a primary in late spring, with a runoff likely in such a crowded field. The same candidates then would appear on the ballot several weeks later, with potentially the same result, and yet another runoff.

Odder still would be if Perdue opts to hold the special election at the same time as the primary, meaning voters could vote for candidates in the same office twice on one ballot, with runoffs also possible in both.
Before the year is done, election officials in our area might roll out the machines as many as half a dozen times. And that isn't cheap, especially with tax dollars flowing like molasses. It would cost Hall County $45,000 to hold a special election, when you factor in poll worker training and pay and the expansion of early voting periods.

But despite causing such chaos and expense, Deal's move makes sense. He needed a boost; he faces a handful of well-financed rivals, and his campaign has hit some bumps in the road.

It's no surprise that the spin over his decision to leave Congress twists both ways. His own campaign was quick to criticize Karen Handel when she resigned as secretary of state late last year to focus on her own gubernatorial bid. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it's a Good Thing in Deal's domain. Welcome to Politics 101.

Deal's opponents accuse him of resigning to avoid a congressional ethics probe into his car salvage business. Yet some of them may consider the same move as the race heats up. Eric Johnson stepped down from his role as Senate President Pro-Tem last year, likely because Georgia law limits candidates who hold state office from raising money while the legislature is in session. He and Handel have escaped that box that confines several others for the next few weeks as the General Assembly drags on.

But it's worth remembering that with all the jockeying, the primary still is four months off and the GOP contest appears wide open. That is unlike the Democrats, who have former Gov. Roy Barnes and a group of contenders at his heels.

Deal's entry into the gubernatorial race already has set off a domino effect that will make this one of the most contested ballots in years. Ten candidates are running for his congressional seat and most say they will take a shot at the special election, no doubt hoping for a leg up to the full two-year gig in November.

It's a wild election year already, yet it's worth noting that no one is officially running for anything yet. Qualifying for state and local offices isn't scheduled until late April, so there's plenty of time for more candidates to get in or out.

At this point in the race, most of the campaigning is just noise designed to jack up name recognition. Between now and primary day, there will be any number of revelations and "gotcha" moments to put one candidate or another in a different light. It's fine to let those slide and wait until some actual substance comes oozing out of the political swamp before you begin to decide how to cast your vote.

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