Roy to Nathan to Karen … Who’s Gonna Put Us Back to Work?
One candidate is a former governor. One was investigated for allegedly trying to influence lucrative deals that would directly benefit him and a business associate. One is Georgia’s former secretary of state who proved a strong woman really can break through the glass ceiling without going to college.
Democratic nominee Roy Barnes is a multi-millionaire trial attorney. He served a single four-year term as governor but his reign ended when Barnes was upset during his 2002 re-election bid. The governor alienated teachers during his tenure but now Barnes is campaigning as their friend. Barnes is a fiscal conservative who is media savvy, a masterful speaker and he has the state’s largest war chest.
One of two remaining Republicans is a Democrat turned Republican. Nathan Deal fled Washington this past spring with an ethics investigation flames licking at his heels. After 18 years strolling Congressional halls Deal now campaigns as a true conservative who says Washington is the problem.
Washington was the problem for Deal in March when the House ethics office said Deal “took active steps to preserve a purely state program, one that had generated financial benefit for Representative Deal and his business partner.” The investigation focused on a salvage business co-owned by Deal. The business received some $1.5 million in state contracts between 2004 and 2008. Deal’s campaign called the investigation a “witch hunt” conceived by Democrats to hurt his gubernatorial campaign.
Deal was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1992 but he became a Republican three years later. Deal claims he was Georgia’s first GOP gubernatorial candidate to support Arizona’s immigration law. He is a fair tax advocate who rejects taxpayer funded benefits for non-married partners. He also supports zero-based budgeting that would require state agencies to prove their programs should be funded.
Karen Handel is the other Republican. Her story is almost surreal. Handel has a high school diploma and some college credits. Her other credits include executive positions with several major corporations, deputy chief of staff to Marilyn Quayle in the Bush-Quayle White House, deputy chief of staff to current Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and then Secretary of State before she launched her current campaign.
Some critics contend a Handel administration would be little more than a third Perdue administration. But that has not worked against Handel. Neither did her decision to avoid any primary season debate that included a GOP candidate who was linked to possible inappropriate behavior with a minor. Handel bypassed two television debates including a statewide broadcast on the weekend before the primary.
Handel has powerful state Republicans in her camp. She also has the electric Sarah Palin who dubbed Handel one of her “Mama Grizzlies.” Handel has endorsements from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the GOP’s Mitt Romney. Handel will be a powerful force for Deal to contend with in the primary runoff.
Georgia voters went to the primary polls on July 20 expecting Democratic and Republican runoffs on August 10. Barnes nixed one runoff when he won 65% of the Democratic vote against six other candidates. Handel overcame a deficit that was in double digits this spring to surge to an 11% win over Deal. Handel was already gaining strength before the “Mama Grizzly” endorsement.
The most critical number going forward is who votes in Georgia. Overwhelmingly, that edge now goes to Republicans, and it would appear to put either Deal or Handel in a favorable starting gate vs. Barnes. Nearly 680,000 GOP ballots and fewer than 400,000 Democratic ballots were cast in the July 20 primary.
Georgia has 4.9 million registered voters and if non-presidential year election history holds true, about 42% will vote in November. Barnes and Handel or Deal will potentially divide about 2.1 million votes. Presidential election years produced 3.9 million voters in 2008 and 3.2 million four years earlier.
Georgia voters will focus on jobs, jobs and jobs. Statewide unemployment at 10% is one-half percentage point higher than the national average. Two-thirds of Georgia counties have unemployment greater than 10%, several higher than 15%. At least one rural county has greater than 20% unemployment.
The candidate who weaves the best yarn about putting people back to work will win. Game on.
Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. This article was written for the Franklin Center for Government.
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