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Pawlenty Names Ga. Leadership Team

ATLANTA (AP) -- Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty has nabbed a top backer of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to run his fundraising in the state.

The Pawlenty camp told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Tricia Pridemore will serve as their Georgia finance chair.

Deal -- who remains committed to Newt Gingrich's White House campaign -- supported Pridemore in her failed bid for state Republican Party chairwoman earlier this year.

Former state Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, who sought the Republican Party nomination for governor, will be a co-chairman of Pawlenty's Georgia operations. Ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue, an early Gingrich backer, will be Pawlenty's honorary state chairman.

"It's a sign of what is to come not only in Georgia, but nationally. When people get to know this guy, they quickly come to the conclusion he's the right man for the job," Pawlenty campaign manager Nick Ayers, a former Perdue aide, told The AP.

Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, will be in Georgia on Tuesday for a fundraiser. Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus is among those who have signed on to host the event.

Johnson, of Savannah, described Pawlenty as "the most conservative candidate in the race that can beat President (Barack) Obama."

Johnson said Pawlenty is a bridge between tea party purists in the GOP and more mainstream business Republicans.

"He is right on the fiscal issues and right on the social issues," Johnson said.

Pridemore praised Pawlenty for running on his record, rather than rhetoric.

And she said she was impressed he was able, as a conservative, to win in a traditionally Democratic state.

Pridemore said she talked with Deal about signing on with Pawlenty but did not ask his permission.

"He told me he thought it was a great idea, a great opportunity for me," Pridemore told The AP.

Deal has said he remains supportive of Gingrich's White House bid, even as the former House speaker's campaign has struggled.

"When the going gets rough, I don't cut and run on my friends," Deal said soon after 16 Gingrich aides and staffers resign earlier this month.

But Perdue -- who had been Gingrich's national co-chairman -- jumped ship and signed on with Pawlenty.

Asked about the Perdue defection at a campaign stop Wednesday in Atlanta, Gingrich said the loss of his onetime supporter -- without so much as a phone call -- stung.

"I was mystified, No phone call?" Gingrich said. "I think it told you about Sonny Perdue."

Johnson, meanwhile, said he thought Gingrich, a former congressman from Georgia, was "unelectable."

"I'm a longtime fan of Newt's policies but I think it was a dumb idea to run for president," Johnson said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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