Yesterday’s release of an unfavorable congressional ethics report on Nathan Deal may have been a crippling blow for his gubernatorial campaign. The just-resigned GOP Congressman stands accused of using his office and congressional staff to protect a state program from which his business profited, among other things. Read my colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin’s news article on the investigation and report here.
Deal resigned his seat immediately after voting against the Democrats’ health-care bill earlier this month. Fairly or not, his hasty departure from Congress, after an ethics investigation was known to be under way but before the results were released publicly, gives the impression that his timing was influenced by the possibility of a congressional reprimand based on the investigation.
Deal never made much of a push in the opinion polls after his surprising decision last year to enter the race. Ethics will be a major theme in this year’s elections, and it’s getting harder and harder to imagine Deal even making a GOP primary run-off. In fact, at this point, I could just as easily envision Deal finishing fifth in the GOP primary — behind (in alphabetical order) ex-Secretary of State Karen Handel, former Senate President Eric Johnson, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and state Rep. Austin Scott.
One thing in Deal’s favor is the fact that, as of the last reporting deadline, he had nearly $1 million in cash on hand — although some $250,000 of that is a bank line of credit secured by $250,000 in campaign contributions. So, the actual total may be smaller, depending on his fund raising over the past three months.
If Deal wants to remove some of the bitterness from the end of his 17-year tenure in Washington, he could set aside some of his campaign funds to reimburse the local governments that will have to hold a special election to fill the 10 months remaining in his term.
The Gainesville Times, Deal’s hometown paper, reports that the special election will cost as much as $240,000 for the 15 north Georgia counties in the Ninth Congressional District. (H/t: Peach Pundit.) At a time when every penny counts for local government budgets, that’s nothing to sneeze at. But it’s an amount which the Deal campaign could probably cover if it made the decision now to do so.
Such a choice would effectively signal the end of his gubernatorial campaign. But that end seems near anyway. Deal could spend his campaign chest trying to blame his accusers, or he could choose this more graceful way to exit Georgia’s political stage.