ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia voters decide Tuesday whether to give Republican Gov. Nathan Deal four more years in office or make a change to Democrat Jason Carter after more than a year of contentious and often personal campaigning.
Georgia's demographics have shifted closer to Democrats' favor, but Republicans were confident their base and swing voters would turn out for the sitting governor who regularly touted the state's No. 1 rating by business publications and his administration's criminal justice work on the stump and in television ads. Democrats are counting on turning out voters who typically stay home in non-presidential years, particularly women and minorities.
If a candidate does not reach more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, the two leading candidates advance to a Dec. 2 runoff and will have to get their supporters back to the polls as the holiday season ramps up.
The competitive U.S. Senate race also could provide a distraction for state parties and other groups. If neither Democrat Michelle Nunn nor Republican David Perdue earns more than 50 percent in that race Tuesday, a runoff would be held in January.
The campaign is likely 72-year-old Deal's last after a career in Georgia's state Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and his 2010 election as governor. He easily overcame two challengers in a spring primary, and then often found himself on the defense during the general election.
Carter focused on Deal's record on education funding and a variety of ethical questions that arose during the incumbent's first term and faulted Deal for the state's unemployment rate reaching the highest in the nation in federal rankings. He has proposed a separate budget for education, promising the accountability would result in more funding for schools.
Deal often questioned Carter's experience, making it a key line of attack along with telling voters Carter would increase state spending with no detailed plans for how to find the additional money. In the final days on the trail, Deal warned voters Carter would use the governor's office as a stepping stone to a presidential campaign.
A win would put Carter, 39, in the political footsteps of his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, who served in Georgia's state Senate and as governor before his national campaign. Jason Carter has represented a metro Atlanta district for two terms in the state Senate, and Deal argued that relatively short political career means Carter isn't experienced enough to govern a state.
Libertarian Andrew Hunt, the former CEO of an Atlanta nanotechnology firm, also is on Tuesday's ballot.