ATLANTA — As anti-establishment anger swept other parts of the nation, Georgia Republicans tapped an 18-year congressional veteran dogged by ethics allegations as the party’s nominee for governor.
After a bitter runoff that featured nasty attack ads and dueling endorsements from potential 2012 presidential contenders, former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal defeated ex-Secretary of State Karen Handel by 2,489 votes out of more than a half-million cast, according to unofficial returns.
Handel, who had cast herself as an outsider, conceded the race Wednesday, avoiding what could have been a drawn-out recount. Deal now faces a general election battle with Democrat Roy Barnes, a one-term governor who was ousted eight years ago by Republicans.
“The best thing for our party is to rally around Congressman Deal as our nominee in the fight against Roy Barnes,” Handel said in a statement. “Barnes would return Georgia to a past that is best kept in our rearview mirror.”
Republicans quickly closed ranks around Deal, with Handel leading the way. There was no mention of her campaign attacks when she labeled Deal “a corrupt relic of Washington.”
Republicans quickly took aim at Barnes, who also has a lengthy political resume, including 22 years in the Legislature and four in the governor’s mansion. Republicans are linking Barnes to the Obama administration and congressional Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
“The refusal of those leaders to listen to the will of the people on critical issues such as out-of-control spending and health care mandates simply reminds Georgians about the way Barnes ruled imperially here before 2003,” outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue said.
Barnes argues that Georgia’s ruling Republicans are driving the state to ruin.
“It doesn’t matter who my opponent is, this election is about the serious issues facing all Georgians, not the out-of-state endorsements and sideline issues that the other team has used to divide voters,” the former governor said.
In other Georgia runoffs, the results are as follows:
• Attorney general (Republican)
Sam Olens: 299,235 - 59 percent
Preston Smith: 208,926 - 41 percent
• Insurance commissioner (Republican)
Ralph Hudgens: 284,140 - 55 percent
Maria Sheffield: 230,100 - 45 percent
• Public Service Commission, District 2 (Republican)
Tim Echols: 247,907 - 52 percent
John Douglas: 225,998 - 48 percent
• Secretary of state (Democratic)
Georganna Sinkfield: 62,345 - 62 percent
Gail Buckner: 38,319 - 38 percent