The latest polls show a tight race, not between Deal and his two Republican primary opponents, but between him and Jimmy Carter’s grandson, state Rep. Jason Carter of Decatur, the Democratic nominee-apparent since he has no opposition in the May 20 primary and can spend his time and money running against Deal.
Deal’s primary opponents are John Barge, state superintendent of education, and David Pennington, former Dalton mayor — neither of whom has anywhere near the big war chest of the incumbent. Deal this week reported $3.9 million in cash after raising about $84,000 since the legislature adjourned. Pennington had $208,466 cash and Barge had $15,914.
Carter reported $1.6 million in cash, raising about $416,000 in contributions in the 11 days after the legislature went home — more than quadrupling Deal’s intake for that period. Carter’s spokesman asserted, “These numbers show that Jason has all the momentum in this race.” He said the campaign was receiving “grassroots support” with a lot of $5 to $10 donations.
Carter’s surprising early strength showed in the latest poll by PPD, the Democrat firm, taken April 1 to 3. It had Carter with 43 percent to Deal’s 42 percent and a big bloc of 15 percent undecided. A March 30 poll by Landmark/Rosetta Stone (Republican) had Deal with 43 percent versus Carter’s 39 percent with a whopping 18 percent undecided. An earlier InsiderAdvantage/Fox 5 Atlanta/Morris News Service poll gave Carter 41 percent to Deal’s 38 percent with a huge undecided bloc of 21 percent.
Ordinarily, an incumbent governor does not have to worry about challenges from within his own party, but in Deal’s case, that word “vulnerable” comes into play. He has been dogged by questions and accusations of ethics breeches since he resigned from Congress to run for governor in 2010. The Office of Congressional Ethics said it appeared that Deal improperly used office staff to pressure state officials into continuing a vehicle inspection program at an auto salvage business owned by him and a partner. Deal denied wrongdoing and nothing came of the report.
Later, he survived a state ethics commission investigation into campaign finances and disclosures by paying $3,350 in administrative fees. However, this issue flared anew recently when a jury found in favor of the former ethics commission director who said she lost her job for trying to get subpoenas to investigate Deal’s campaign finances. After the verdict, Pennington and Barge lit into Deal on the ethics issue with Barge going so far as to say the governor should “step aside, settle for one term and let us get Georgia back on track.”
The tough attacks by Deal’s Republican challengers will inflict some damage, no doubt, but they will amount to pin pricks compared to what a Democrat machine working for Carter can do in the general election campaign. It’s too early to predict but remember the word for Deal is “vulnerable.”