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Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 11:53am

Barge Running For Governor

State Schools Superintendent John Barge officially launched his bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal Tuesday. Teachers say it will put school issues at the heart of the 2014 gubernatorial election. But GOP strategists believe it’s a Hail Mary pass by Barge.

It’s no secret that Barge and Gov. Deal disagree on a few things.

Even though he’s a Republican, Barge openly campaigned against the GOP-backed charter school amendment on the 2012 ballot.

But experts say he isn’t likely to use the campaign as a stepping stone to higher office. Instead, they say it’s his way out of a defeat in next year’s race for school superintendent.

Marc Rountree is an Atlanta-based Republican strategist. He says Barge would likely have faced a primary challenge.

“So if he was going to have to face a primary for his re-election, he may as well jump and try to win the bigger prize,” he said in an interview. “I also think he’s depending on other candidates perhaps jumping in the race, each peeling off 5 percent to 10 percent of the votes at a clip.”

Either way, it probably won’t matter, Rountree says. That’s because Deal has such strong support among likely GOP primary voters

“The Governor right now is probably hovering around winning 75 percent of the vote or more in the Republican primary,” he said. “His numbers are solid. Pennington will be trying to campaign to the right of Deal. Barge will have not a lot of options, except to campaign to the left of Deal.”

Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman, gave those numbers a competitive twist.

“I don’t think we can rationally explain their decision to get into this race because the odds are just not there for a challenger in this environment,” he says.

He says Barge’s announcement won’t affect his boss. Instead, it will force Pennington to scramble to fundraise.

He also said Barge will merely appeal to Democrats, not Republicans.

Educators applauded Barge’s entrance into the Governor’s race. Sis Henry heads the Georgia School Boards Association. She says her group doesn’t endorse candidates. But she says she’s pleased Barge’s candidacy will automatically elevate education as an issue on the campaign trail.