GAINESVILLE, Ga. -- The winner of Georgia’s 2008 presidential primary, Mike Huckaee, put his support behind ex-Congressman Nathan Deal during a brief appearance this afternoon at the Gainesville Civic Center.
Deal is looking for a boost in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Karen Handel. And he’s hoping Huckabee’s appearance will blunt some of the expected impact from Monday’s appearance of Sarah Palin on behalf of Handel.
Speaking to a crowd of about 800, most still wearing their church clothes at the meeting hall across the street from where Deal attended church himself that morning, Huckabee described Deal as a “conservative’s conservative.” He highlighted Deal’s endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Georgia Right to Life.
“He did not suddenly find his political voice for life to run for this office,” Huckabee said.
The two men met five years ago when Huckabee was governor of Arkansas and chairman of the National Governors Association lobbying for changes in the Medicaid program. Deal chaired the House subcommittee considering the legislation.
“For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve known him as a fighter. I’ve known him as a conservative,” Huckabee said. “And he doesn’t have to go back and re-read his own campaign literature to know what he believes.”
Their friendship stands in contrast to Palin’s relationship to Handel. The two women only met twice.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, the highest-ranking woman in partisan office, told the crowd that most of the Republicans in the legislature publicly endorsed Deal over Handel because of their own relationships with him.
“We’re voting for Nathan Deal because we’ve worked with Nathan Deal,” she said.
Among the crowd were candidates for other offices, including GOP insurance-commissioner hopeful Maria Sheffield and Lee Hawkins, who is in Tuesday’s runoff to succeed Deal in Congress.
Huckabee’s supporters from his presidential campaign have remained active, and many showed up for the event, too, including one man who drove from Macon to wave a homemade signing urging Huckabee to aim again for the White House.
Huckabee told reporters after the rally he didn’t see Tuesday’s vote as a contest between his and Palin’s presidential prospects in 2012.
“This is not a proxy vote about the future. This is about now,” he said.
Huckabee recorded a radio ad and a message to be delivered by robocall to primary voters.