Dalton Mayor David Pennington officially launched his bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal Monday. He says he’s the race’s true conservative because Deal is a lifelong politician who’s expanding government. And some of Georgia’s most conservative voters agree.
Pennington first floated the idea of running over the summer. He wanted to see if there was enough support for a candidate to the right of Deal.
After months of traveling the state, he says there is. He’s fresh off winning a straw poll held by the Georgia Republican Assembly.
Julianne Thompson is president of the conservative group. She said some Georgia conservatives are taking a look at Pennington right now.
“I think that support in the Governor’s race at this particular time among the conservative base in split,” she said. "Don't get me wrong. Deal has a lot of support. But Pennington also has strong support among conservatives."
And that's partly because he's worked in insurance, not politics, and has cut spending in Dalton.
In an interview, Pennington said he thinks the state income tax should be cut. And he said the state budget has grown under Deal, and there are many state agencies that shouldn’t exist.
Thompson, who's also a member of the Tea Party, said that last idea resonates with some Georgia voters.
“People are concerned that local, state and federal government is growing out of control, and it’s spiraling out of control,” she said.
But others say Deal has raised spending modestly since being elected. Eric Tanenblatt is a leading GOP strategist and a senior managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge in Atlanta. He said Deal has broad support among Republican voters.
“I suppose if you’re a challenger and you want to stake a position, you could pick where you want to fit into the race, you can say that,” he said. “But I think it will be a real long shot to challenge Gov. Deal from the right.”
He added, “Deal is already a fiscal conservative. He’s been a good steward.”
Gov. Deal is also facing a primary challenge from state schools superintendent, John Barge. Tanenblatt said both of Deal’s challengers are long-shot candidates.
If he wins the nomination, he’ll face Democratic state Senator Jason Carter in the general election.