Update 2:49 p.m.: Gov. Sonny Perdue has now weighed in as well. While it was long rumored that he would support Karen Handel for the nomination, the outgoing governor stayed cautiously on the sidelines in the primary and the runoff. Now, he’s welcoming Deal to the fold.
Here’s his statement:
“Our Republican family has nominated an outstanding candidate for Governor.
“Nathan Deal has worked tirelessly to represent our Georgia values in Washington against the forced liberal agenda pushed by Roy Barnes’ allies such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and John Edwards. The refusal of those leaders to listen to the will of the people on critical issues such as out-of-control spending and health care mandates simply reminds Georgians about the way Barnes ruled imperially here before 2003.
“In contrast, Nathan is a common-sense conservative who has consistently represented the principles and beliefs of our state’s citizens. Unlike his opponent, Nathan Deal listens first and talks second. Now it is time for our family to come together and keep Georgia moving forward.”
Yesterday, Karen Handel called Nathan Deal a “corrupt relic of Washington.” Today, however, Handel said she is endorsing him as the GOP nominee for governor.
In a statement just released from the Handel campaign, she said she called Deal this morning to concede the nomination.The November ballot is now set. Deal will represent the GOP and face Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said that U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., coordinated the phone call between Handel and Deal.
“They had a very good talk,” Robinson said. “Nathan congratulated her on a great campaign. She told him that she would not ask for a recount and that she would be on board to help the party to victory in November.”
Deal, Robinson said, “thanked her for her graciousness and said he looked forward to meeting with her in person.We thank her for putting the party first and saving us a lot of heartache. She has shown that she is putting Georgia first and we are greatly appreciative of her selflessness in this situation.”
Barnes issued a statement Wednesday at noon congratulating Deal.
“But it doesn’t matter who my opponent is, this election is about the serious issues facing all Georgians, not the out-of-state endorsements and sideline issues that the other team has used to divide voters,” Barnes said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, Deal appeared at a GOP “unity breakfast” in Buckhead, but Handel did not. But her statement this morning is clearly aimed at healing a party battered by months of a tough primary campaign and a brutal three-week runoff. Barnes, meanwhile, cruised to victory over six other opponents in the Democratic primary. While other Democrats, particularly House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, took their shots at Barnes, that contest never reached the level of contention the GOP race.
AJC photographer John Spink said the room at the GOP breakfast was packed with at least 200 people. The GOP faithful warned that Barnes, the Democrat who lost to Sonny Perdue eight years ago, has wasted no time in launching an ad campaign against Republicans.
The event at 103 West on West Paces Ferry Road had the feel of a convention, with both winners and losers in Tuesday’s runoff encouraging the party to stay together to defeat Barnes in November.
Deal was one of the last speakers at the breakfast. He had already made the rounds at TV studios, where he expressed “cautious optimism” that he will be named the winner. At the breakfast, however, Deal spoke more confidently that he would prevail.
Deal called Handel, who did not attend the breakfast, a “worthy opponent.”
Although Deal was the most prominent candidate at the event, the one getting one of the longest standing ovations was state Rep. Melvin Everson, an African-American lawmaker who campaigned for labor commissioner but lost to state Rep. Mark Butler in the July 20 primary.
Everson brought the crowd to its feet after calling for party unity and then introducing his primary opponent. Butler will face Democrat Darryl Hicks in the November election.
Handel and Deal ended Tuesday night’s runoff election separated by fewer than 2,500 votes, or .04 percent. An unknown number of absentee ballots and overseas military votes had yet to be counted, but Handel said the “best thing for our party is to rally around” Deal and fight Democratic nominee Roy Barnes.
Here is Handel’s full statement:
“I want to thank all of my friends, supporters, volunteers and my campaign team for a tremendous effort over the last 16 months. We ran a terrific campaign, beat the odds to come in first place in the Primary, and came so very close in the runoff election.
“As of this morning, we are four tenths of a percentage point behind Nathan Deal with absentee ballots and overseas military votes yet to be counted.
“We certainly have the option of requesting the automatic statewide recount. But we are not going to do that.
“The best thing for our party is to rally around Congressman Deal as our nominee in the fight against Roy Barnes. Barnes would return Georgia to a past that is best kept in our rearview mirror. We must marshal all of our resources to defeat him.
“I spoke with Nathan this morning and let him know that I endorse his candidacy and look forward to the fight against Barnes. I have also called on all who were supporting me to give their same commitment and energy to Nathan.
I thank the people of Georgia for the opportunity to serve them and for allowing me to interview for the job of Governor. This was an amazing journey, and the friendships that Steve and I made enriched our lives immeasurably. I look forward to finding a way to serve this great state in the future.”
Republicans around the country are now weighing in. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said in a statement that “there is no doubt that Georgians will rally behind the pro-growth, limited government agenda of Nathan Deal.”
State Republican Party chairwoman Sue Everhart, meanwhile, congratulated Deal.
“In this time of economic uncertainty when each Georgian is concerned about their future, it is important that we elect leaders that understand solutions won’t come from more government bureaucracy, debt and taxes. Congressman Deal will partner with Georgians as we move our state forward,” Everhart said in a statement.
The Republican Governors Association also commended the candidates.
“Nathan Deal brings a strong conservative voice to the race for governor,” RGA political director Paul Bennecke said in a statement.
Democrats, too, responded. Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association said Deal can’t be called a “winner.”
“A vicious runoff and the narrowest of margins produced the worst possible nominee in Georgia: a corrupt Washington insider,” Daschle said in a statement.”