Here’s the complete, updated version from Shannon McCaffrey and the Associated Press:
Republican Nathan Deal created a stir when he said earlier this month that he was willing to keep an “open mind” about the possibility of casinos in Georgia, drawing the ire of the state’s politically-powerful Christian conservatives who oppose gambling.
After at least one prominent Christian activist voiced concerns to Deal, his campaign for governor had a different message.
“He personally opposes casino gambling,” Brian Robinson said in an interview this week. “Nathan does not believe gambling is the best way to create jobs.”
Robinson quickly noted that Deal has voted against online gambling bills in Congress but would not say whether Deal, as governor, would sign or veto a bill legalizing casino gambling. Robinson said the issue was moot since permitting gambling in the state would require a constitutional amendment which does not need the governor’s signature to become law.
Deal won his party’s nomination by running as a staunch social conservative, and he’s counting on solid support from the state’s politically-active Christian right to lift him to a win in the November general election.
As a result, his comments on casinos — made at a tourism forum in Savannah last Wednesday — were greeted with surprise by the state’s evangelical leaders.
“I think there are potentials,” Deal said at the forum. “We should look at it with an open mind and we should not say ‘no’ just because of any particular bias one way or the other. I’m willing to keep an open mind about it.”
Ray Newman, lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Convention, said he became so alarmed after learning of Deal’s remarks he called the former congressman to express his concern.
“I think we are on the same page now,” Newman said. “I’m always concerned when there is talk about expanding legalized gambling.”
But Jerry Luquire, head of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said Friday that by refusing to say outright that he would veto a gambling bill, Deal “is essentially saying that he supports casino gambling.”
Luquire said if Deal believes Christian conservatives will support him because “they have nowhere else to go” in the November general election he’s mistaken.
“They don’t have to vote the top of the ballot,” Luquire said. “They can stay home.”
Deal’s opponent, Democrat Roy Barnes, made clear at the Savannah forum that he opposes legalizing casino gambling. He said it would compete with the state lottery, which funds the HOPE scholarship.
After a brutal, three-week runoff to clinch the Republican nomination for governor, the Deal campaign has had to make a quick shift to the general election battle. Barnes, who won his party’s nomination in the July 20 state primary, was able to sit back during the GOP runoff, raising money and honing his strategy against his GOP opponent.
The casino flap is the latest stumble for the Deal campaign in recent weeks
Earlier this month, Deal initially said he would refuse federal “Race to the Top” education funds because of federal strings he said were attached. Hours later, the former congressman reversed course, explaining he had misunderstood the federal program.
Asked last week about his views on placing a mosque near ground zero in New York City, Deal first issued a statement to the Marietta Daily Journal saying it was up to New Yorkers to decide.
The next day he told The Associated Press that “as an American, I am absolutely opposed.” He went on to call construction of the mosque two blocks from where The World Trade Center once stood “an insult” that “keeps the wounds of 9-11 alive.”
The Barnes campaign said Deal has proven himself “unsteady for the job” of governor.
“He cannot even make up his mind about important issues like casino gambling, education funding or whether to release his own tax returns,” Barnes spokesman Emil Runge said.
Deal has so far declined to release his tax returns, and the Barnes campaign has criticized the lack of disclosure in a recent TV ad. Deal also has yet to unveil a detailed education platform. Robinson said both are in the works.