Primary Focus: Gov. Deal faces 2 challengers in Ga. GOP primary
By Associated Press | 5/20/2014, 10:30 a.m.
ATLANTA — Republicans across Georgia were to decide Tuesday whether to stick with incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal as their party's nominee or support one of two challengers.
Deal heads into Election Day with major advantages in money and name recognition against former Dalton Mayor David Pennington and state Schools Superintendent John Barge. Polling stations across the state close at 7 p.m.
To avoid a primary election runoff, a candidate must win more than half of the vote. Tuesday's results will help demonstrate whether core Republican voters are solidly behind the GOP incumbent before the November election. The winner will face Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, in the general election.
The primary campaign was a more low-key affair for Deal than four years ago when he competed for what was then an open seat. As an incumbent, Deal enjoys advantages that include more widespread name recognition, the pulpit of the governor's office and an established fundraising network. The economy has improved since Deal took office, helping stabilize the state budget and allowing Deal and other leaders to restore some — though nowhere near all — of the spending cuts made during the Great Recession.
His administration this year restored some cuts made to public school districts. He earlier supported cuts to the popular HOPE college scholarship, which Deal's administration say was necessary to save a financially over-stretched program. More recently, Deal has been able to boost that scholarship funding. Deal has also pushed for federal funding to expand the Port of Savannah and moved to steer more nonviolent offenders away from prison and toward rehabilitation programs.
Deal has been dogged by ethical entanglements. In April, a Fulton County jury awarded $700,000 to the former director of Georgia's ethics commission, Stacey Kalberman, in a lawsuit that contended her salary was cut and her deputy removed while she investigated complaints against Deal. The governor was cleared of major violations in that ethics probe, but he agreed to pay $3,350 in administrative fees to end an investigation into his 2010 campaign reports and financial disclosures.
Pennington has run to the right of Deal, calling for deeper spending cuts and an overhaul of the state's tax code. He recently criticized Deal's administration for working behind-the-scenes against legislation that would have let people carry firearms on college campuses.
As schools superintendent, Barge clashed prominently with Deal on charter schools. Barge opposed a constitutional amendment that allowed the state to create new charter schools over the objections of local school officials. During the campaign, Barge has said Georgia needs to strengthen its education system to attract top-quality employers to the state.