The Real Deal on Georgia’s Gubernatorial Campaign Strategies

Georgia’s three gubernatorial candidates went head-to-head-to-head this past weekend in the Atlanta Press Club debates, with Gov. Nathan Deal (R),  state Sen. Jason Carter (D), and political newcomer Andrew Hunt (L) sounding off on a series of valence issues that left much to be desired by the audience.

From Deal’s endorsement of Georgia’s job creation rate, to Hunt’s promise to cut taxes, to Carter’s resounding call for better education, little was said that might turn moderate heads. Far from the bitter cracks of accusation that rushed forth from the first forum on education, this final debate lacked both luster and substance.

The utter lifelessness of Sunday’s debate brings to mind the question: What are the candidates really campaigning for?

Winning isn’t everything?

The answer seems obvious at first. Candidates campaign in order to win the seat, right? Yes! But that answer only barely scratches the surface of motivations and strategies in the intricate world of U.S. politics.

As one former Democratic campaign finance consultant speculated, “The Democratic Party of Georgia is attempting an organizational recovery. It has been mismanaged, under-financed, and, for all intents and purposes, electorally impotent since at least 2007.”

Several polls have ranked Deal and Carter as running neck-and-neck for more than a month, though gerrymandered district lines may yet again maintain Georgia’s strong red-state status despite close numbers for statewide elections in the past decade.

Deal has pushed to make headlines in job growth and education reform – likely in reaction to Carter’s call for education reform and the recent reports that Georgia’s jobless rate sits at 7.9 percent, putting Georgia at the very top of U.S. states for unemployment.

"Upon taking office,” Deal said in a recent press release, “I spearheaded legislation to increase the bidding threshold for state entities from $5,000 to $25,000, opening the door for more local businesses to do business with the state without cumbersome bidding requirements. This legislative fix expires June 2015, but I will take action to extend it.”

It is this nearing expiration date that makes the statement worth using so close to Election Day.

If the Democrats took over the governor’s office, Deal’s last sentence implies, they might not push to extend it.

In the final debate, Deal continued with his agenda to make Georgia’s growing job creation rate more important than its staggering jobless rate. He is correct in his assertion that economists pay more attention to the job creation rate over the unemployment rate. Yet his listless statements that “we are making substantial strides” indicate a faltering faith in in the electorate toward conservative fiscal policy. As Carter digs into Deal for the sinking economy and crumbling education sector, he is really chipping away at the age-old belief that Republicans are better known for strong fiscal decisions.

In other words, Deal speaks of job creation and better use of education funds because he’s been backed into a corner by Georgia Democrats during an economic downswing. As explained in one of our recent articles, a loss for Republicans in Georgia’s gubernatorial race is more than a win for the state’s Democrats. With the right redistricting, it has the potential to overturn a decades-long legacy of conservative politics across the South.

Furthermore, the sting of Deal’s ethics scandal is kept fresh by the campaign year, and a loss might signal the end of a long political career.

Carter at the bat

Jason Carter, on the other hand, is at the beginning of his political career. A loss for him in Georgia’s 2014 gubernatorial race is still a win in the long run. The amount of face time he has received with Georgians – and the nation as a whole through support from his grandfather, former President Carter – is substantial.