ATLANTA -- Nathan Deal has gained breathing room between him and challengers Jason Carter and Andrew Hunt, according to a poll released Thursday.
Deal is hoping to be re-elected in November as Georgia’s second modern-day Republican governor. Carter, an Atlanta state senator, is the Democratic nominee, and Hunt, a high-tech entrepreneur and political newcomer, is the Libertarian standard bearer.
The survey for Morris News and Fox 5 of Atlanta by InsiderAdvantage shows Deal leading 47 percent to Carter’s 40 percent and Hunt’s 3 percent. Ten percent of those questioned were undecided when reached by automated telephone or online Monday and Tuesday. The poll included 1,349 likely voters for a 2.7 percent margin of error.
Independent surveys released as recently as last month showed Carter in the lead, but that was before Deal’s campaign began attacking him and before the Republican Governors Association let loose multiple negative television ads. Carter was airing introductory spots that didn’t threaten the governor.
“Losing ground in the polls while running advertising is a very bad sign. The best Carter could likely hope for would be to keep Governor Deal under 50 percent (plus one vote), as required to win, and force him into a winter runoff,” said InsiderAdvantage CEO Matt Towery.
In addition to his ads, Deal has also been able to trumpet a number of recent corporate job expansions across the state and multiple organizations ranking the state highly for job creation. The most recent were CNBC’s No. 1 ranking, up from eighth, and Thumbtack’s grade of A- for friendliness to small business. Deal’s campaign argues he deserves re-election because he kept his promise from four years ago to make the state the top place for job creation.
On the other hand, the state’s unemployment rate rose last month to 7.2 percent.
Towery notes that Carter will still have a tough time escaping association with the unpopular Obamacare. That’s been the focus of one of the first ads attacking him for supporting its provision to expand Medicaid in the state.
Towery’s poll showed just 41 percent of Georgians surveyed approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance while 58 percent disapprove. Only 1 percent had no opinion.
“Carter’s problems don’t end with a poor campaign strategy. Both he and Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, Michelle Nunn, are saddled with an immensely unpopular Democratic President Obama as their party mate,” Towery said. “Nunn will have a greater difficulty distancing herself from Obama, given that the issues in her race are federal and relate directly to the president. However, Carter’s failure to take on Deal’s weaknesses straight out of the gate, combined with the unpopularity of the president, might spell doom for his effort, too.”
With five months before the general election votes are counted, Carter has time to retake the lead. His supporters hope that in the meantime, more bad news will surface about Deal’s ethics. Carter and other Democratic candidates are repeatedly calling for a reopening of an investigation by the state ethics commission or attorney general of the governor’s campaign spending four years ago. The commission levied a small fine but never sought the subpoenas that its staff had requested before their departure.
One of those former staffers won a lawsuit against the state for wrongful dismissal, and the state then settled with three other former staffers for a total for the four of around $3 million.