Governor Nathan Deal’s re-election prospects are on the mend. However in question they may have been is debatable, but either way most acknowledge the race is moving in his favor.
He has led Jason Carter in five of the most recent six polls; the lone tally showing a tie was a shift in the Republican’s favor. All told, it levels out to a 3.2 percentage point lead for Deal in the Real Clear Politics polling average of the race, 47-43.8 percent. The previous average over six polls prior showed the governor with an edge of just half a percentage point, 44.1-43.6 percent.
For such a twenty day turnaround, it has gone rather unstated. Other markers, though, also show that the governor may have the wind at his back more than any other time in recent months. Virtually everyone, including InsiderAdvantage’s Matt Towery, have acknowledged that Deal came prepared for a twelve-round slobberknocker in last week’s clash with both Carter and Libertarian hopeful Andrew Hunt in Perry. The debate format enabled him to open a line of attack on Carter in the form of questioning his experience and lack of major legislation shepherded in the Senate. His camp has since followed up on that, issuing a press release dotted with resolutions bearing Carter’s name, but nothing that’s become actual law. That’s followed repeated attacks on Carter’s voting for three of Deal’s four budgets, which he finally chalked up to the spirit of bipartisanship before simply not being able to abide by them anymore. Deal mocked it as an “epiphany tour” in the debate. After a summer in which he was largely on the defensive, Deal’s campaign has now forced the challenger to defend himself, a position successful challengers do their best to avoid.
Fundraising, too, has swung in the Republican’s favor. After being outraised in the previous quarter, the governor reported hauling in just over $5 million in the most recent reporting period. That figure outpaced Carter by $2 million, though Carter did carry slightly more cash on hand, $2.8 million to Deal’s $2.6.
Outside spending, though, is ensuring an edge in the ad wars from here until Election Day. Deal has been further bolstered by $2.1 million in support from the Republican Governors Association. Another group, Coalition for Georgia’s Future, has also launched a pro-Deal ad regarding Georgia being named the state home to the most businesses owned by women. A deluge of outside ad spending on Carter’s behalf hasn’t come. Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn was boosted by millions in outside spending from groups like EMILY’s List in September; that didn’t happen for Carter and no indication has been given that it will with three weeks left to go. While both have raised money directly from prolific national Democratic forces, the contrast in outside spending bolstering the Senate nominee, as opposed to Carter, is noticeable.
All told, it has made for a three-fold narrative of a race easing back into the GOP’s favor. Improving poll numbers, a big fundraising haul, and a challenger on the defensive in October are not hallmarks of an incumbent heading out of office.
Of course, the final outcome remains to be seen. Deal must crack 50 percent to win outright, and a runoff will make for many more grueling weeks of analyses and ads. Coming at a time when Carter needs reinforcements from the outside cavalry the most, though, the shift in the race’s optics will certainly make for an interesting three weeks.
Brandon Howell is a conservative communications strategist and a writer.