With just over a week to go before Groundhog — er, Election — Day, it’s time to consider the uncomfortable possibility that some bucktoothed newscaster will see his shadow, and we will all be forced to endure four more weeks of campaigning and ugly TV ads.
In other words, we could have a runoff for governor. Cue the tinny duet from Sonny and Cher: “Just put your little hand in mine …”
Neither Republican Nathan Deal nor Democrat Roy Barnes will yet acknowledge such a scenario — perhaps out of a fear that it would drain much-needed adrenaline from their volunteers.
And the signs certainly point to a strong Republican performance in Georgia on Nov. 2.
But in virtually every poll of statewide races, Deal has run several points behind other GOP candidates — the burden of a bitter primary struggle and fierce, well-funded TV attacks from Barnes.
In most surveys, the former North Georgia congressman has been under that magic mark of 50 percent plus one. And Libertarian John Monds continues to exact his crucial sliver of support.
Conventional wisdom and house odds say a mano a mano runoff for governor on Nov. 30 would simply delay the inevitable. No Democrat has ever won the second statewide round of a general election in Georgia — though, granted, there haven’t been many. Republicans show up for special elections. Democrats don’t.
But unconventional wisdom says there remains a narrow path for Barnes to win a runoff. This is why you’ve seen some Georgia Democrats begin to root for Republicans to take over the U.S. House — and maybe the U.S. Senate, too.
This is why nearly a dozen reporters showed up on the 27th floor of a Midtown Atlanta office building on Friday to listen as Karen Handel gave her first public address since losing the Aug. 10 GOP runoff to Deal.
They waited to see whether Handel would declare bygones to be bygones.
What they witnessed was a former secretary of state who spoke with all the enthusiasm of a woman who lost a statewide race for governor by 2,500 votes — and might have been the GOP nominee for governor had her runoff rival been more forthcoming about his personal financial situation.
“I support the ticket and I reiterate that support today,” Handel told the mostly female membership of Pocketbook Politics, a nonpartisan group. Much of the rest of her speech focused on the need for “fresh” leadership and higher ethical standards from public officials — lines she used this summer in reference to Deal.
She eschewed bitterness and declared Nov. 2 to be “too important to let what did or didn’t happen affect your voting decision.”
But the words “Nathan Deal” never passed Handel’s lips during her speech. Though she gave the Republican nominee a passing mention in the question-and-answer session, while listing candidates who might still need volunteers. Deal wasn’t at the top.
Handel’s campaign spokesman afterward e-mailed reporters a copy of a two-paragraph endorsement of Deal that Handel issued after the runoff. But “what I said in August” can hardly be called a lightning bolt of enthusiasm.
Democrats are hoping that Handel exemplifies a certain softness in GOP support for Deal that — if it doesn’t rear its head a week from Tuesday — might be more likely to show itself in a runoff. Especially if the rest of the Republican ticket, led by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, has been sated by victory.
Should Republicans take the U.S. House, as now seems probable, the Republicans in Washington might be preoccupied with the immediacy of personal ambition.
And some GOP voters might feel their duty done, just as African-American voters in Georgia, once Barack Obama was elected president in ‘08, gave Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss a pass in his U.S. Senate runoff against Democrat Jim Martin.
All could depend on whether “the people ticked off at Obama feel like they’ve gotten their pound of flesh,” theorized one Democratic heavyweight.
Republicans are aware of the opening. Linda Herren, a member of the Republican National Committee, was in Handel’s audience on Friday.
Herren said she’s been grabbing the lapels of every Republican she talks to, emphasizing that the Governor’s Mansion is the key to controlling next year’s reapportionment — the all-important, once-a-decade redrawing of the state’s political boundaries.
“Take your blinders off,” she tells her GOP friends. “We’ll have to live with this for the next 10 years.”