The Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary will be held on Tuesday but no candidate is expected to receive 50% of the vote. That will result in an August 10th run-off election between the top two finishers.
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel is the clear GOP front runner, and is almost certain to obtain one of the two run-off slots. Her opponent could be Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, former Congressman Nathan Deal, or former State Senator Eric Johnson. The polls are too close to make any prediction
Handel and Oxendine have both promised to work for the elimination of the state income tax, which currently brings in half of Georgia’s revenue. They instead advocate a national Fair Tax, which would require major revisions in the tax code. The other GOP candidates are running well behind the leaders, and this group includes State Senator Jeff Chapman, Ray McBerry and Otis Putnam.
According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the top three GOP candidates have each spent over $1 million on negative ads, and several ethics issues have been raised. The major GOP candidates are in agreement on most of the significant issues.
What Do The Polls Say?
Oxendine had been the GOP front runner for the past six months, but has fallen behind in recent weeks. It is possible he will not make it to the run-off. An InsiderAdvantage/WSB-TV Poll released on Thursday, said Handel was at 24%, Deal 16%, Oxendine 15% and Johnson 13%.
A Magellan Strategies survey released on July 13th gave Handel the lead with 32%, Deal and Oxendine had 18% and Johnson 12%.
A Mason-Dixon Poll sponsored by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution was also released on Thursday. It gives Handel the lead with 29%, Oxendine 22% and Deal 20%.
The previous Mason-Dixon Poll had been conducted 10 days earlier and it gave Oxendine the lead with 31% and Handel 23%. All of the polls demonstrate that undecided voters have been breaking heavily towards Handel.
Handel has been endorsed by former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). Deal has the backing of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Deal’s signature issue is stopping illegal immigration, but Handel received the endorsement of Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ).
Handel’s opponent Eric Johnson said he was “sorry to see Governor Palin’s endorsement of the most liberal Republican candidate in this race. Karen is the one Republican candidate not endorsed by Georgia Right to Life.”
Former Congressman Deal made a similar comment: “It’s disappointing that Sarah Palin has chosen to back the most liberal Republican in this race. Just last night, Handel finally admitted she’d written a check to a gay rights group — when previously she said the check was a forgery and she never lived at that address.”
Allegations of Improper Conduct: Minor Candidate Gets Major Attention
Ray McBerry has never been a serious candidates and has been receiving 2 to 3 percent in most polls, but he has attracted major attention in the news media. McBerry, 42, was suspended as a school teacher in 2004 after allegations were made of an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl.
He denies the charges and says the relationship was proper. At a May 1st gubernatorial forum, Karen Handel said she would no longer appear at any debate which included McBerry.
McBerry has been endorsed by the Constitution Party and advocates states rights. He is a chapter president and board member of the secessionist organization, League of the South, which advocates southern independence.
He says the civil war had nothing to do with slavery. McBerry says he “does not not support the globalist, socialist policies of either the Democrat or Republican parties at the national level.” He refuses to salute the American flag.
McBerry says “the current federal flag which represents the present unconstitutional leviathan in Washington,” and instead salutes the “original Betsy Ross American flag.”
McBerry criticized Handel for saying her favorite President was Abraham Lincoln. He describes Lincoln as “a war criminal.” Handel explained her position on the McBerry controversy by saying:
When we fail to take action in the face of this kind of behavior, our silence becomes acceptance. And what McBerry did is simply NOT okay. What he did was wrong, and he does not reflect the values of our Party – or Georgia.
We can all agree that McBerry’s actions are repulsive. Why would we give this individual the legitimacy that comes with a place on a Republican debate platform? We should not. We are better than that. It is disappointing. We can do better.
David Johnson, the CEO of the Atlanta firm Strategic Vision, agrees with Handel and says “Nobody should give McBerry a platform. He is a disgrace.”
The Final Debate
Handel’s primary opponents do not defend McBerry, but for two and half months they have been criticizing her for skipping debates. They have noted her “Bring It On” slogan is ironic coming from a candidate who does not appear with her opponents.
Last night the attention was once again focused on the absent Handel, and Oxendine asked Deal and Johnson if she was correct in failing to attend debates because of McBerry’s participation.
- Former Rep. Nathan Deal: “I think it’s important for the Republican Party to nominate someone who demonstrates the conservative values that most Republicans hold dear. I believe Ms. Handel does not demonstrate that kind of solid background.”
- Former State Sen. Eric Johnson: “It is incredible she will not stand before the people of Georgia. Avoiding going toe-to-toe with your opponents is not a good sign when it comes to facing the Democratic nominee much less Barack Obama.”
- Oxendine’s ads claims that as a Fulton County commissioner Handel presided over spending that “skyrocketed,” supported federal tax dollars to an “abortion provider” and “supported taxpayer benefits for gay couples.” According to Factcheck.org, all of these allegations “fall short of the truth.”
Democrats: Former Governor Roy Barnes Has a Commanding Lead
The Democrats also held a debate last night, and all of the attention was focused on former Gov. Roy Barnes. He was criticized on a wide range of issues, and many of the allegations concerned his lack of support for the national Democratic agenda. All of the Democratic candidates have attacked Barnes for voting against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday.
Barnes is a conservative Democrat and has promised to support an Arizona style immigration law if he is returned to the Governor’s Mansion. Barnes was elected in 1998 but defeated in a 2002 upset by Republican Sunny Perdue, who is now stepping after 8 years because of term limits.
In a Rasmussen Poll released on Friday, Barnes had a staggering 59% to 16% lead over Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Former President Bill Clinton has endorsed Baker, while Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is backing Barnes. Also in the race are former Secretary of State David Poythress and state House Minority Leader DuBose Porter.