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Nathan Deal, Karen Handel Separated by Just 2,500 Votes in Georgia GOP Governor Primary Runoff

Nathan Deal and Karen Handel
Republican gubernatorial candidates Nathan Deal and Karen Handel talk Saturday Aug. 7, 2010 before the start of their 30-minute televised debate sponsored by Channel 2 Action News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and NewsTalk 750 WSB-AM. As they sprinted into the final days of Georgia's gubernatorial runoff, Republicans Handel and Deal continue to clash over ethics and experience. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford) AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia's Republican primary runoff remains too close to call, with just about 2,500 votes between former Rep. Nathan Deal and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in their campaign for the governor's office.

An unknown number of provisional, overseas and military ballots have yet to be counted, but Deal currently holds the slim lead. On Atlanta's Channel 2 Action News this morning, Deal said he expected military votes to be in by Friday.

"We are still cautiously optimistic," he said.

The winner of the runoff will face off against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes this fall. In a year in which governors races will significantly impact redistricting across the country, the Georgia race has strong national as well as local ramifications.

Barnes, who was Georgia's governor from 1999 to 2003, also appeared on Channel 2 Action News this morning, where he said he had no preference on which candidate he would compete against.

"This comes down to who can put Georgians back to work and kids back to school," Barnes said. "And we know that what has been the team in the last few years has failed in that."

Barnes' remarks illustrate the type of campaign framing that can be expected once a victor emerges from the Deal-Handel runoff.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway writes that Barnes will try to tie the Republican candidate to the shortcomings of current Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and the GOP-controlled state legislature, while the Republican will try to tie Barnes to President Obama.

Georgia Republicans Splitting Primary Vote Special Report: Campaign 2010

"There's the mess in Washington, and the mess in the state Capitol," Galloway writes. "Decide which one worries you most, and you're halfway to solving the riddle of the November race for governor of Georgia."

Barnes is already running a television ad in Georgia that asks viewers, "Do we continue down the same path with the same team that gave us ethics violations, teacher furloughs, tax breaks to special interests, homes foreclosed, and misplaced priorities, or do we work our way back?"

Barnes is expected to focus on issues like education, according to the Journal-Constition's Galloway, and Deal has already made the bold declaration that as governor, he would decline federal education funding from Mr. Obama's "Race to the Top" program because of the educational reforms the state would be expected to make.

Political strategists on both the left and the right consider this year's 37 gubernatorial races to be critical, and Georgia's race is considered one of the races in play. The governors races could shape the nation's political landscape for the next decade, since they will impact redistricting set to take place across the country as a result of the 2010 census. In a number of those 37 states, governors have significant power in shaping the plan for redistricting.

Perhaps because of the high stakes in the race, a handful of high profile Republicans gave their endorsements to Deal or Handel. Deal won the backing of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee, while Handel won the backing of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer.

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Ned Lamont, Once Lieberman Foe, Loses in Conn.

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