- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ATLANTA | In a Republican-leaning state, in what’s shaping up as a Republican year, Nathan Deal was seen as a pretty sure bet to become Georgia’s next governor.

That was before revelations that the former nine-term GOP congressman is so deeply in debt that he’s selling his home to stave off bankruptcy.

After a week of news about Mr. Deal’s deep financial woes, Georgia Republicans are growing anxious about their nominee, who’d already been battered by ethics allegations during the summer primary season.

Democrats are pouring money into the race - the Democratic Governors Association announced it plans to spend an additional $1 million in the state, on top of $500,000 it has already spent. Republicans are running a barrage of ads linking Mr. Deal’s Democratic opponent, former Gov. Roy Barnes, to President Obama.

A new poll taken even before revelations about Mr. Deal’s financial troubles showed the race to be a dead heat, at a time when other GOP gubernatorial candidates are surging in such blue states as California, New York and Connecticut. The Mason-Dixon Polling survey gave Mr. Deal 45 percent to Mr. Barnes’ 41 percent.

“He should step down as the nominee,” said Tom Perdue, a well-known Georgia GOP campaign operative who ran GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ re-election race in 2008. “People in the party feel betrayed, and they feel cheated because if they had known about all of this earlier, there would have been a different nominee.”

On Sept. 15, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mr. Deal faces a Feb. 1 deadline to repay a $2.3 million bank loan for a failed sporting-goods store launched by one of his daughters and her husband, who declared bankruptcy when the venture in north Georgia failed. The candidate and his wife were guarantors on the loan.

The debt exceeds the total of Mr. Deal’s total assets - listed as $2 million on a recent state disclosure form.

Mr. Deal insisted he will meet the obligations and won’t declare bankruptcy. And he tried to turn the financial troubles to his advantage, arguing that they show he is facing the same economic woes as many Georgians.

On Sept. 16, the Associated Press reported that Mr. Deal had an additional $2.85 million in loans that he did not disclose on his required state financial-disclosure form. Asked about the loans, Mr. Deal called them an “oversight” and within hours he amended his disclosure form to add them.

Mr. Deal’s campaign says he took those loans out to expand his business, Gainesville Salvage Disposal, which has been valued at $5 million. But the campaign declined to provide specifics.

But taken together, Mr. Deal has well over $5 million in loans outstanding, records show.

Jerry Luquire, head of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said Mr. Deal must do more to clear up the confusion surrounding his finances.

Mr. Luquire said voters wrongly or rightly have been left with the impression that “something is wrong.”

At a Republican rally on Saturday, Mr. Deal, who also faces Libertarian John Monds, acknowledged the issues swirling around his campaign.

“The press spent the first three-quarters of this campaign worried I was making too much money,” he told Republican faithful gathered at Wild Bill’s restaurant in Duluth. “Now they’re concerned I’m not making enough.”

But the drumbeat of problems surrounding Mr. Deal seems to be taking a toll.

Kenny Burgamy, a conservative radio-show host in Macon, said callers lit up his switchboard on Friday when he discussed Mr. Deal’s loan troubles. A number of them thought Mr. Deal should step aside as the party’s nominee.

“In everyday people’s minds, I think some of this just doesn’t add up,” Mr. Burgamy said.



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