ATLANTA — Georgia Democrats figured 2010 was their best chance in years to regain control of state government, with former Gov. Roy Barnes running at the top of the ticket against a Republican candidate plagued by ethical and financial questions.
The November election, though, dashed those Democratic dreams. Nathan Deal was the standard-bearer of a GOP sweep, as Republicans took every statewide office and beefed up their majorities in the Legislature. The vote, which proved the state's rightward tilt is neither flimsy nor fleeting, was the top Georgia story in 2010.
Other top stories include the state's struggle with illegal immigrants, the saga of a federal judge who was charged in a scandal involving drugs, guns and a stripper, and allegations of widespread cheating that led to an upheaval at Atlanta Public Schools.
It was a busy year in sports, too. Legendary Braves manager Bobby Cox retired after leading his injury-battered team to yet another playoff push, the dominant Falcons set their sights on a Super Bowl, and the Hawks canned coach Mike Woodson after falling in the second round of the playoffs for a second straight year.
Other top Georgia news and sports stories from 2010 included:
— Rapper T.I. returned to jail for breaking his federal probation. He served about seven months in 2009 for a weapons violation and vowed a fresh start when he was released last year, but he was sentenced to another 11 months after he was arrested in Los Angeles on drug charges.
— Four men claimed megachurch pastor Eddie Long coerced them into sexual relationships by abusing his spiritual authority to lure them into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash when they were 17 and 18. The embattled TV preacher denied the allegations, saying he was only a mentor to the men.
— Georgia State University's football team played its first season, helping the school shed its commuter college reputation. Thousands of students, alumni and fans clad in the university's bright blue flocked to the Georgia Dome to watch coach Bill Curry's Panthers take the field.
— University of Georgia athletic director Damon Evans, a married father of two, resigned after a state trooper pulled him over with a 28-year-old woman who was not his wife. The arrest report noted that a pair of her panties was found between Evans' legs and that Evans repeatedly referred to his position at Georgia.
— Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended four games after he was accused of sexually assaulting a college student in a Milledgeville bar. He wasn't charged by Georgia authorities after the local prosecutor determined there wasn't enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.
— Georgia won $400 million in grant money from the U.S. Education Department's "Race to the Top" competition. The money will go to pilot a merit pay program for top educators, boost graduation rates, revamp the state's math and English standards and expand a system that tracks student progress.
In politics, Barnes tried to make a comeback after being ousted in a 2002 shocker by Sonny Perdue, then a little-known state senator who just a few years earlier had switched to the GOP. The Democrat carefully plotted his return in 2010, positioning himself as an outsider who would end teacher furloughs and lower Georgia's unemployment rate.
Given the anti-Democratic sentiment in Georgia, it could have been an easy contest for Deal, a longtime conservative congressman from north Georgia who pledged to stick to his conservative credentials. But Barnes eagerly went on the attack, calling Deal corrupt, raising questions about his finances and suggesting he used his office for personal gain.
It didn't work. Deal soundly defeated his Democratic rival, leading a Republican realignment that sent Democrats into disarray. Republicans took control of every office, seizing control of the Attorney General's office, as well as the state's top labor and agriculture post. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and other GOP incumbents coasted to re-election.
For Democrats, the hits kept coming. Nine Democratic state lawmakers switched parties, putting Republicans on the verge of reaching a supermajority in the House. Some were conservative members who often voted with the GOP majority, but the departure of others, like left-leaning state Rep. Doug McKillip of Athens, particularly stung party leaders.
The newly emboldened GOP majority will likely consider tough anti-illegal immigration measures. A committee of 14 Republican lawmakers formed to study the issue may even propose an Arizona-style crackdown that gives local law enforcement expanded powers.
The case of Jessica Colotl, a Georgia college student and illegal immigrant arrested on a minor traffic violation, was another reminder of the volatility of the issue. Colotl's arrest touched off a wider immigration debate, forcing state education officials to adopt stricter rules governing illegal immigrant students.
Georgia's legal community was stunned in October when U.S. Senior Judge Jack Camp was arrested after authorities say a five-month probe revealed he was buying and using drugs with a stripper who was secretly cooperating with federal agents.
Camp stepped down in November after pleading guilty to a felony and two misdemeanors, but his arrest is still rippling through Georgia's courtrooms. Prosecutors say Camp made remarks during the investigation that suggested he had a racial bias, and defense attorneys quickly readied appeals.
And the Atlanta Public School system had another tumultuous year, as prosecutors announced an investigation into test tampering after state officials said they had clear-cut evidence that test results were improperly altered. Superintendent Beverly Hall said she will step down in June, and the board feuded in court and in public about who was in charge.