Former Congressman Deal has to deal with the ethics issue over his contacts with state officials to preserve a contract for his Gainesville auto salvage business connected with a state inspection program. The Office of Congressional Ethics said contacts with state officials by Deal and his chief of staff may have violated ethics rules.
Deal said he did nothing wrong and labeled the findings "a political witch hunt fueled by Democrats."
But former Gov. Barnes is taking aim at the ethics issue with his first television ad after Deal narrowly defeated former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
In a new Barnes ad released last Friday, the screen shows headlines about the Deal ethics story and the narrator says the candidate "is distracted with ethical charges," and that the election "is not about political parties. It's a choice between the distractions of Nathan Deal's ethical questions and Roy Barnes, who is trained and ready for the job."
Remember that Karen Handel hit Deal hard with the ethics issue and he still managed to defeat her, albeit by a razor-thin margin of less than 2,500 votes. The ethics issue will get news legs only if the voting public cares about the details of the congressional report that raised serious questions.
Deal resigned from Congress - to run for governor, he said - in the nick of time before the deadline for the ethics panel to investigate the matter further or dismiss the case. If the ethics office had not released the report after Deal's resignation, the voters of Georgia would very likely not have known about the findings.
As for Deal's strategy, he certainly will try to tie Barnes to the national Democrats and their policies, extremely unpopular with most Georgians. Deal will point to Barnes' backing of John Edwards in the Democratic presidential campaign.
Before the contest began in earnest, a new Rasmussen poll gave Deal 51 percent versus 42 percent for Barnes with 3 percent for some other candidate and 3 percent undecided. Last month before the GOP runoff, it was Deal 49 percent and Barnes 43 percent.
The latest survey indicates that Barnes has several major challenges. First, Deal had 92 percent support from Republicans, while 88 percent of Democrats backed Barnes, but voters not affiliated with either major party went for Deal 56-33. And on a critical issue, 78 percent saw Deal as conservative, while 40 percent said Barnes was liberal, 31 percent said he was moderate and 24 percent, conservative.
The most surprising results of the new poll were the favorable-unfavorable ratings. Deal: 15 percent very favorable, 13 percent very unfavorable. Barnes: 22 percent very favorable, 26 percent very unfavorable - a reversal for from a July 22 poll that had Barnes with 27 percent very favorable and 21 percent very unfavorable.
Will ethics trump national Democrats?