ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal drew a primary challenger on Tuesday for the 2014 governor's race.
The contest is likely to be overshadowed by a fierce fight among Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. However, Tuesday's announcement by Dalton Mayor David Pennington that he will challenge Deal in the Republican primary means the governor will have to defend his record and spend money before being able focus on the general election.
"Our leadership is failing us," Pennington said in a statement issued by his campaign. "We need ethical leadership that will focus on job creation, not scoring political points. We need a proven, job-creating businessman to take the reins."
Through a spokesman, Pennington declined an interview and pointed to a campaign website that describes him as a job-creating businessman and principled conservative with a degree in economics from the University of Georgia. On the website, Pennington calls for tax reform to "make taxes simpler, fairer and smaller."
By most accounts, Pennington will face an uphill battle against Deal, who recently reported raising $613,000 in campaign contributions since the first of the year and has roughly $1.1 million in cash for his re-election bid. Deal, who defeated a crowded field of Republican candidates in the 2010 governor's race, is expected to campaign on his conservative stewardship of state finances and job growth.
"This is a numbers game. The governor has 70 percent approval ratings from the Republican primary electorate that will decide the nominee," said Deal's spokesman Brian Robinson. "Gov. Deal has reduced the size of state government, maintained our Triple-A bond rating and cut taxes."
In his announcement, Pennington conceded little ground on fiscal issues and said the state's economic performance has not improved under Deal's watch and instead trails the nation. Pennington touted his work as mayor of Dalton to reduce property taxes and license fees.
Pennington said he "has a disdain for those who would hide behind a party label to raise taxes or increase wasteful government spending" and said he's also dedicated to improving the quality of life for Georgians. He said that during his time as mayor, nearly $1 million has been invested in historic preservation and city recreation space has increased.
Robinson said the governor welcomed a debate on economic policies, saying the state's revenues have increased annually since Deal took office and unemployment has dropped two percentage points.
"We're making real progress in Georgia and Gov. Deal is going to offer a vision for the next four years," Robinson said. "He will run on his record. He's proud of his record. We're also going to have an agenda for his next term."
So far, no major Democrat has announced a bid for governor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said earlier this year that the focus for Democrats should be on the U.S. Senate race and praised Deal for doing a "good job as governor."
The two have worked together on a number of economic development projects, including Porsche's new North American headquarters being built in Atlanta.