While his campaign until now has been what some have called mediocre, Gov. Nathan Deal may well be setting the stage for a victory without a runoff in November. In recent weeks Deal and groups supporting his candidacy have spent the money to air stronger pro-Deal commercials, as well as effective attacks on his opponent, Jason Carter.
The impact is showing. The RealClearPolitics average of all public opinion polls now has Deal moving up and Carter standing still. In the past two days, two polling firms have pegged Deal at 49 percent and 50 percent respectively. But it is the latter poll, conducted by the respected and self-identified “Democrat leaning” PPP, that best confirms a potential trend.
While Deal’s ads have greatly improved – particularly the current ad starring First Lady Sandra Deal – the chief reason for Carter’s stagnation is in the issues he has chosen to raise in his television ads attacking Deal. For the most part they are drab and have little punch.
Much of the fight over ethics, or possible flaws in state government under Deal have been left to the media to bring up. Carter’s team, although bright and energetic, seems unwilling to hit Deal with the topics that made the race close for months – last year’s state and local government fiasco in the handling of a snowstorm’s aftermath, and the hard-to-describe and hard-to-follow alleged “ethics problems” of Deal.
Carter’s team has yet to show an understanding that the election for governor is purely a referendum on Deal, not a vote for Carter. Or perhaps they do understand, but are more interested in keeping Carter tidy and unscarred for a potentially successful run for governor four years from now.
And the news that more money is rushing into the state for Deal, combined with the silence of major Democratic national powers on funding for Carter, suggests that Carter must make his ads, which will be less frequently seen on the air, pack more of a punch in order to maintain his hope for a runoff in the November election. Deal and his supporters started turning things around about two weeks ago, and these two newest polls have picked up the impact on voters.
A debate scheduled in Perry tonight might supply some miraculous moment upon which Carter can gain some new traction, but it will have to be in the form of an ad. That’s because a debate held in middle Georgia is not one that attracts significant attention in the areas where the vast majority of votes will come from – metro- Atlanta and north Georgia.
Ironically, as Deal moves closer to a win without a runoff, David Perdue appears increasingly likely to be in one for U.S. Senate. The Michelle Nunn campaign and the groups supporting her have been far more aggressive in their attacks on Perdue than Carter and his supporters have been on Deal. Yes, the Nunn side has more national and outside money supporting it, but it is the messaging for which the dollars are being spent that is making the race increasingly competitive.
Nunn took the “terrorist funding by Points of Light” attack ad by Perdue and stuffed it right back in his face. Now she’s using his past as “an outsourcing” CEO to further beat Perdue down.
It would be ironic if it turns out that Nunn instead of Carter manages to force a runoff; ironic because Carter was essentially handed obvious issues on which he could attack Deal, whereas Nunn has been saddled with being associated with Barack Obama, and has been herself put on the defensive by attacks from the Perdue camp.
Perdue can’t be counted out because he has fierce, professional political warriors on his side. But it’s the Carter campaign that may well be tipping its hand with a month to go. And the polls might start to reflect that.