The Republican Party faithful put a good face on last night’s close gubernatorial race at a “unity breakfast” this morning in Buckhead. But they’ll surely breathe a sigh of relief at the news, just broken by the AJC’s Aaron Gould Sheinin, that Karen Handel has conceded to Nathan Deal.
There was little appetite among the breakfast crowd for Handel to take a knife’s-edge loss and try to stick it in her opponent. Nor was there much belief that a recount would produce anything other than what we had after last night: the nomination of Deal to run against Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds.
Her absence from the breakfast event was conspicuous, although that looks different in the light of a fresh concession. But in any case it was clear that the party was ready to move on to the general election.
And while Congressman Tom Price and especially defeated labor-commissioner candidate Melvin Everson gave fiery speeches, the most effective remarks may have come from, of all people, John Oxendine.
The soon-to-be ex-insurance commissioner, whose plummet from gubernatorial front-runner to fourth place will be state political legend for some time, was not a favorite of the state GOP establishment of late. But he recalled for them Wednesday his days as a teenage staffer for then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller — “I’m confessing my sins,” Oxendine said to some laughter — as Miller challenged four-term U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge in the 1980 Democratic primary.
After Miller conceded, Oxendine said, “I heard a lot of people say, ‘I’m going to vote for the Republican,’” Mack Mattingly. The young Ox decided to join them, and 30 years later he held it up as a lesson to frustrated Handel supporters.
“I voted for the nominee of the opposing party, out of anger and disappointment,” he said Wednesday. “And, no offense to Mack Mattingly, that is why he won and became a U.S. senator, because there was a huge divide in the Democrat Party.
“I don’t want that to happen in 2010. … Don’t live with the regret that I lived with as an 18-year-old.”
There will be more opportunities for Republican division in the months to come, particularly if Barnes tries to turn the general election into a referendum on the last eight years of GOP rule in the state — policies and decisions that Deal will either have to defend or perhaps dodge as things that he didn’t participate in while serving in Washington.
One day into the general election, however, Deal and other state Republicans were saying all the right things.