Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Georgia Governor Race

Race of the Day

Georgia Governor

August 11, 2010
83 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Eight years ago, Sonny Perdue became the first Republican to be elected Governor of Georgia in 130 years. While Georgia had become far more GOP friendly, it was one of the bigger upsets on Election Night 2002, as incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes, a politician of some national ambition, was expected to win a second term. The GOP had an edge in that particular midterm election and Barnes found himself a victim of political circumstances. With the 2010 midterm elections expected to pack an ever greater punch in favor of Republicans, his comeback effort remains an uphill one.

Barnes took a pass on challenging Perdue in 2006, but with the Republican Governor now term-limited, Barnes began a campaign to claim his old job back. Despite the fact that the primary was somewhat crowded, Barnes was able to surpass 50 percent of the vote in the July primary and avoided the need for an August runoff against his chief opponent, state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who was seeking to make history as the Peach State's first black Governor.

The Republican candidates for the job though would wind up going to a runoff, and the result is finally determined as of this morning. Many ambitious candidates had jumped into the race to replace Perdue and a couple of the early frontrunners fell by the wayside either in the months leading up to the primary, or in the initial round of voting itself. The first place finisher in the July primary was Karen Handel, who had won statewide office in 2006 as Secretary of State, but resigned at the end of 2009 in order to focus on her campaign for Governor. Running more than 1o points behind in second place was Nathan Deal, a veteran Congressman, who was elected to the first of two terms to that body as a conservative Democrat, before switching to the GOP not long after the party won control of the House of Representatives. Governor Perdue also had served many years in politics as a Democrat before changing parties.

After the July primary, the expectation was that Handel had the edge in the runoff, as she had surged ahead in just the last few weeks. In some regards, the showdown beteween Handel and Deal became a battle of 2012 Republican Presidential hopefuls as Handel claimed support from Sarah Palin (who would come to campaign for her candidate on the eve of the runoff) and Mitt Romney, while Deal was backed by Mike Huckabee and his former Georgia Congressional colleague Newt Gingrich. The runoff turned combative and personal and some party healing is now probably needed. In yesterday's voting, Deal, who ran strong in rural areas of the state, narrowly bested Handel, who had her base in the suburban Metro Atlanta area. Supporters of the GOP candidates who failed to make the runoff appeared to gravitate towards Deal, and there was also talk that Handel had not been sufficiently conservative on social issues. While it appeared a costly and time consuming recall might be in the offing, this morning, Handel conceded the race to Deal and pledged her support. The general election is now officially on.

In the past few days, there has been talk that Handel would be a stronger general election candidate against Barnes, than Deal, a longtime fixture on Capitol Hill (who actually resigned his seat a few months back to campaign full-time.) Critics will point out that Deal may have resigned in order to rid himself of an ethics investigation involving a family business.

Democrats can now be expected to try to use these allegations against Deal, but it remains to be seen how it will play out. The most recent general election poll from Rasmussen Reports, after the first round of primary voting, actually showed Deal running six points ahead of Barnes, while Handel, who may have appeared to be a polarizing figure on the campaign trail, was in a virtual tie with the Democrat. New polls from the state should be expected to be released in the next few days and we will see then if Georgia's conservative leanings have Deal headed into Labor Day as the favorite or if the rough primary and subsequent runoff leave the GOP with some rifts that need to be healed first.

Barnes is certainly a credible candidate and cannot be counted out, but the race has to still be considered to be leaning towards the GOP. If the Georgia electorate was what it was in 2008, with a high turnout of African-American voters, then perhaps Barnes would have a path to victory, but the 2010 midterm will see a smaller overall turnout, but one that is expected to feature a very motivated conservative base.

The Democrat candidate who was bounced as an incumbent in 2002 will probably find 2010 an even tougher environment.

Deal ("Real.") campaign link:

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 3 D, 6 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 10 D, 12 R