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Financial revelations don 't need to be fatal

ATLANTA --- A double-dose of bad financial news recently followed by poll results showing the race has gotten very close might seem to foretell serious problems for Nathan Deal's chances of getting elected governor, but not necessarily.

First came a story by the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporting that the Republican nominee was essentially broke because he had guaranteed loans for his daughter and son-in-law's failed sporting-goods store. Then the Associated Press reported two days later than he had not included some loans for his ongoing salvage business in a personal-financial disclosure filed with the State Ethics Commission as required of all candidates.

Friday morning, he held a five-minute conference call with supporters in which he downplayed the impact of both sets of loans. He assured them that he could liquidate some assets and cover all of his commitments.

Then, he dismissed speculation that his campaign was wounded.

"Now, of course, on top of all of this is the implication that this in some way should have something to do with the governor's race," he said. "I, quite frankly, don't think that it has."

The week ended with the release of a poll by InsiderAdvantage showing he and Democratic nominee Roy Barnes were tied at 42 percent. Coming within days of a SurveyUSA poll giving Deal an 11-point lead, Friday's poll seemed to show that Deal had suffered a tremendous turn of fortune in the space of five days.

Temper that with claims from Democrats that the SurveyUSA poll was wrong to begin with. They argue it under estimated black turnout and over estimated male turnout. One would have depressed Barnes' numbers while the other would have boosted Deal's.

(Of course, both polls essentially agreed on the U.S. Senate race in showing Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson ahead 56-34 over Democrat Mike Thurmond in the SurveyUSA and Isakson leading 52-34 in InsiderAdvantage.)

Also, consider that the InsiderAdvantage poll was taken Thursday night while the two items of news were still fresh, fresher than they'll be when voters begin casting ballots. The news may dampen enthusiasm for Deal, but it doesn't necessarily help Barnes, who had the political savvy to say as little as possible while Deal was in the media spotlight --- one possibly orchestrated by Barnes through strategic tips to reporters.

Some pundits have described a freefall for Deal because the InsiderAdvantage poll shows Barnes getting support from 10 percent of the Republicans who participated in the survey, but SurveyUSA gave him 12 percent at the start of the week.

To better gauge the impact of such news on a candidate, look at how it affected Tom Graves, Christine O'Donnell and Kathy Cox, three Republicans hit with similar news in this current campaign cycle. Graves won a special election to Deal's seat in Congress despite news he was being sued by a creditor. O'Donnell won the GOP nomination to the U.S. Senate in Delaware on Tuesday even as prominent Republicans were publicizing her financial problems, including almost no income and a pile of debts.

Cox resigned before she could be tested in the primary, but she was generally considered a safe favorite despite the failure of her husband's construction company and their bankruptcy.

In those three races, there were other conservative Republicans that voters could have chosen, but they made their pick in the face of the unflattering revelations. Deal doesn't even have to worry about losing votes to another Republican, because he's the only one in the general election for governor.

An informal survey Friday of some attendees at a luncheon hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce resulted in everyone asked saying the news about Deal wouldn't change their votes because money problems in the wake of a recession is so common. Admittedly, it's an unscientific sampling, but it illustrates how some people are evaluating the situation. As the news reports age, even more of the doubters could convince themselves to come back to Deal over the choice of Barnes or staying at home.

Voters generally make their choices based on their own circumstances, not those of the candidates. History is full of examples of candidates winning, not just when burdened by financial problems or accusations of non-disclosure, but also serious ethical violations and even pending criminal indictments.

The challenge for both campaigns is to convince voters of how this news could impact them personally. Deal began that with his conference call when he said, "I believe, if anything, this is an illustration of the fact that you need a governor who understands the pain that Georgians are facing."

Next is Barnes' turn.

Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News who has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at or (404) 589-8424.

Web posted on Thursday, September 23, 2010

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