- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - The race for governor began to take shape Wednesday as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal touted his first-term accomplishments while Democratic challenger Jason Carter offered his vision for the state in separate interviews with The Associated Press.

Deal, who is seeking a second term, described his record as one of job creation and key reforms in the areas of criminal justice, taxes and education. He argued he has the experience needed to tackle tough problems such as the state’s outdated funding formula for K-12 education and a long list of critical transportation projects.

“The main difference is that I have a record to run on,” Deal said in an interview at his campaign office downtown. “I have shown positive leadership that has produced results, and I think people judge those in elected office by fulfilling their promises, and I believe I have done that.”

Carter, a state senator and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, challenged that record. He argued that the governor has failed in four years to improve the lives of middle-class Georgians and has instead jeopardized the state’s future by underfunding education.

“What we have seen over the last several years in my view and the view of a huge number of people, both Democrats and Republicans, is a failure to put forward real ideas to solve real problems,” said Carter in an interview at his campaign office north of downtown.

The race has already garnered national attention, and both have been raising large sums of money. Deal had $3.9 million in cash at the end of March, the last reporting period, while Carter had $1.6 million. Deal has already been airing TV ads promoting his record, while Carter is likely to start soon.

Deal said he took office when the state was still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession and made it a priority to create jobs. He said he worked with the General Assembly on a tax reform package in 2012 to help agriculture and manufacturing, two of the state’s leading industries, while juggling other pressing issues including a HOPE scholarship program facing a financial crisis.

“You have to have the courage to make hard decisions. You can’t run from them,” Deal said. “You have to have the courage to take on issues that may at first blush appear to be politically unpopular like criminal justice reform.”

He noted criminal justice reforms have already produced millions in savings in two years, while also helping non-violent offenders turn their lives around. He also argued voters should be wary of Carter’s promises.

“Political promises don’t matter unless they are promises that can be fulfilled,” Deal said. “I have made promises that have mattered and they have been fulfilled.”

Carter said he welcomes a debate about Georgia’s future, arguing his key issues are education and growing the economy. Carter wants to require lawmakers to fund education first in the budget-making process, and acknowledges that could mean cuts in other areas of state government.

“You have to be willing to make tough budgeting choices, period,” Carter said. “When you pretend that by cutting education and undermining the system you are saving money, it’s not real. You are, in fact, eating your seed corn and next year are going to starve.”

He said Deal has created much of the problems he claims credit for fixing, including changes to the HOPE program that initially raised the qualifying grade-point average for technical college students and a reduction of days offered in pre-K.

“It’s putting a Band-Aid on a body he severely injured,” Carter said.

Deal has said the state was able to restore those HOPE cuts after revenues improved, which also allowed him to increase k-12 spending by an additional $547 million next fiscal year.

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