Deal has early lead over Handel

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Former congressman Nathan Deal of Gainesville was trying to hold on to an early lead in the Republican runoff for governor, leading Karen Handel by a narrow margin as returns continued to come in Tuesday night.

With about 97 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Deal was up by nearly 5,000 votes over Handel, a margin of less than 1 percent. The final winner will face former governor Roy Barnes in the general election.

The ultimate winner could be decided by late returns from Fulton County, where Handel had a big advantage over Deal, and Gwinnett County, where Deal held a small lead over Handel.

Deal was trailing Handel by 11 points, 34-23 percent, coming out of the Republican primary. The momentum appeared to be with Handel at that point because of her endorsement by the “mama grizzly,” former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Palin even made a widely publicized appearance at an Atlanta rally on Monday to try to drum up last-minute support for Handel among the Republican Party faithful.

Deal started catching up to Handel in the runoff campaign as supporters of John Oxendine and Eric Johnson consolidated behind him.

“The polls had indicated they were coming that way,” Deal said Tuesday night.

Handel may have hurt her cause by running a relentlessly negative campaign in the runoff in which she blasted Deal as a “corrupt relic” of Washington and leveled the same criticism against legislators who she claimed were part of a “good ol’ boy network” that needed to be replaced.

That broad-brush attack on the General Assembly sparked a backlash among Republican legislators like House Speaker David Ralston and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, who lined up with most of the GOP House and Senate members behind Deal.

The support of that statewide network of legislators obviously helped Deal eat into Handel’s lead coming out of the primary election.

Deal ran a mud-slinging campaign against Handel himself, with a series of TV commercials that attacked her for trying to solicit gay support when she ran for the Fulton County Commission several years ago.

Handel fought back by making anti-gay remarks of her own, but the stigma that remained from her earlier moderate positions on gay issues may have hurt her among conservative Republican voters.

Both Deal and Handel took hardline anti-immigrant positions in their campaigns, with Deal calling for an end to “birthright citizenship” spelled out in the 14 th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Deal, like Handel, also supports passage of an anti-immigrant law in Georgia similar to a law enacted in Arizona.

© 2010 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Georgia governor's race , GOP runoff , karen handel , Nathan Deal , roy barnes , Sarah Palin