Top House leader drops out

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ATLANTA --- A top Republican in the Georgia Legislature took himself out of the running Thursday to replace Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010, deciding instead to keep his position as House speaker pro tem.

Mark Burkhalter, of Johns Creek, said in a statement that he gave the race "careful consideration" but concluded that he can best serve the citizens of Georgia by keeping his current job.

"I will continue to work diligently to help the GOP maintain and grow the majority that we won in the House five years ago," he said.

A prominent metro Atlanta developer and real estate executive, Mr. Burkhalter also said he wants to remain involved in his business during the economic downturn.

Three Republicans are left vying to replace Mr. Perdue when his second term expires: Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and state Rep. Austin Scott. U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland is also eying the contest.

There was no immediate comment on Mr. Burkhalter's decision from the Oxendine or Scott campaigns.

Ms. Handel said she has "tremendous respect for Mark Burkhalter and his service to the state and the people of North Fulton."

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress have said they will run.

The big unknown in that contest for governor is whether former Gov. Roy Barnes will jump in. Mr. Barnes has said he will make a decision before June 1.

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