A campaign event April 16 turned into a screaming match as Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Dalton Mayor David Pennington held a news conference inside the state Capitol.
Pennington said he was going to make a “major announcement” that Wednesday. But the fairly standard conference took a quick turn when Randy Evans, Governor Nathan Deal’s attorney, jumped in. The heated exchange appeared to be about campaign financial disclosures.
‘You had the governor’s attorney hijack that press conference,” said AJC political reporter Jim Galloway.
Galloway, who was at the press conference, joined the “On The Story” weekly political roundtable to talk about how Pennington’s political event turned into a bout of political theatre.
“David Pennington, the former mayor of Dalton had given us 24 hours-given the world 24 hours notice- that he was going to stand outside the governor’s office and say something extremely important,” said Galloway. “And it turns out, when you give a governor 24 hours notice, you give him a chance to get lawyered up.”
Pennington was trying to make two points, says Galloway. One- that the governor is refusing the debate his Republican primary opponents -and two- trying to draw attention to an old controversial business deal of the governor’s, which involved the sale of an auto salvage company called Copart.
In return Randy Evans accused the gubernatorial candidate of hiding financial issues, including a business he operated in New York.
Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson says Pennington’s strategy of a 24-hour alert before trying to drop a political bomb was the wrong decision.
“I think it was a very sort of amateur move to give the governor’s staff and the governor has a good campaign team, said Johnson. “24 hours notice that you’re going to come and talk.. it’s something that he’s definitely going to learn from and move forward.”
Todd Rehm, GOP political consultant and editor of the website GaPundit, agrees. He says Pennington made two mistakes: giving 24 hour notice of his conference and making his major “announcement” on his opponent’s turf.
“What I think this does beyond the embarrassment that he’s going to be feeling today is it marginalized him from a press point of view,” said Rehm. “Nobody’s going to take him seriously when he comes out with his next great announcement and nobody’s going to cover it.”
But the blow may not only be to Pennington’s media credibility. Syndicated columnist Jackie Cushman says Wednesday’s press conference gives the impression that Pennington doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of real issues facing the state.
“I think it does show that he’s not talking about the people of Georgia,” said Cushman. “So Deal is going about, he’s signing bills. He’s doing business. He’s taking care of the state of Georgia. And this guy is talking about.. you know.. other issues. People care about 'how are we today?' ".
Governor Deal was not at the Capitol during the press conference.The Republican gubernatorial candidate debate is May 14.