ATLANTA — Former Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee paid a return visit to Georgia on Thursday and called on the state's GOP faithful to throw their support behind Nathan Deal's bid for governor.
It was Huckabee's second the trip to the state to rally support for Deal, a former congressman. Huckabee — a one-time Arkansas governor and current Fox News Channel host — swooped into Georgia just before the state's Aug. 10 GOP runoff to whip up support for Deal in Gainesville.
On Thursday, Huckabee decried the tough attacks being directed at Deal by his Democratic rival, former Gov. Roy Barnes. He called them "desperate and despicable."
Huckabee told reporters that a Democratic ad accusing Deal of moving to weaken Georgia's rape shield law while in the state Senate was "politics in its lowest form."
"Should we play hard and play to win? Yes," Huckabee said. "But we should play fair and that's not what's happening."
But the race for the state's top spot has been rough-and-tumble on both sides.
The Deal campaign has unleashed a new ad assailing Barnes' scorched-earth tactics. The Republican Governors Association is also out with two new spots, one blasting Barnes on immigration and the other his record as a trial lawyer.
The Barnes camp defended the rape shield ad saying Deal led an effort that would have allowed defense lawyers to question rape victims about their sexual history.
"Georgians are looking at (Deal's) record and are finding that it doesn't reflect Georgia's values and it certainly doesn't reflect women's values," Barnes spokeswoman Anna Ruth Williams said.
The Deal camp has said he was simply trying to bring state laws in line with federal rules of evidence to withstand any constitutional challenge.
Huckabee won Georgia's Republican presidential primary in 2008 with 34 percent of the vote, buoyed by support from the state's evangelical voters. He is weighing another presidential run in 2012.