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Perdue wins second term as governor

Win not as surprising this time

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    ATLANTA — Even as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s supporters started to crowd a hotel banquet hall Tuesday to watch election returns, they were practicing their victory toasts.
    And for the Democrat-turned-Republican, who stunned Georgia in 2002 when he upset Gov. Roy Barnes, the confidence in his latest campaign was a sign of how dramatically the state’s political landscape has changed.
    Perdue’s victory four years ago led the transformation of Georgia from a state controlled since Reconstruction by a solidly Democratic establishment into one of the nation’s most reliable Republican states. His easy re-election Tuesday over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor was another sign that the state’s GOP majority in Georgia was neither flimsy nor fleeting.
    ‘‘There may have been a lot of people four years ago saying the election of Sonny Perdue was a fluke,’’ said Republican strategist Ralph Reed, who lost the primary for lieutenant governor. ‘‘They’re not saying that now.’’
    The incumbent never trailed his Democrat challenger in the polls, and many Taylor supporters staked their candidate’s election hopes on whether he could deprive Perdue of 50 percent of the vote and force a runoff.
    But those hopes dimmed almost as the first results streamed in. With 73 percent of precincts reporting, Perdue had 59 percent of the vote, while Taylor had 37 percent. Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes had 4 percent.
    Perdue’s win in the face of an anti-Republican sentiment through much of the nation, as well as his party’s expected pickup of the lieutenant governor’s and secretary of state’s offices, proved Georgia was insulated from the national backlash.
    Hundreds of Perdue supporters cheered on the returns, chanting ‘‘Sonny, Sonny’’ as they awaited the governor’s arrival. At the Taylor campaign party, onlookers appeared more interested in watching Democratic wins elsewhere in the country than monitoring their candidate’s lackluster numbers.
    Taylor’s concession speech, broadcast at the Perdue party, was met with cries of ‘‘blowout’’ from Perdue backers. Others hugged each other and clinked wine glasses and beer bottles.
    Taylor, meanwhile, talked of unity. ‘‘Now it’s our mission to unite all Georgians, one people working together for the common good of all Georgia,’’ he said.
    Minutes later, flanked by his family, Perdue took the stage and promised to be a good steward of the governor’s office for the next four years.
    ‘‘We aren’t governing, we aren’t doing this for this election,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re doing this for the next generation of Georgians.’’
    ‘‘The Big Guy,’’ as Taylor calls himself to play up his 300-pound frame, had tried to gain traction by accusing the governor of consistently cutting school funding and health care money and using his office to grow his personal wealth.
    ‘‘He made more money in four years as Governor Perdue than he made in 54 years as Sonny Perdue,’’ Taylor said Sunday night in the third and final debate between the candidates.
    In particular, Taylor pounded Perdue for signing a tax law that that ultimately allowed Perdue to avoid paying $100,000 in state taxes, and also for failing to have the state purchase a nature preserve near his home in Houston County.
    The governor disputed those claims, calling them ‘‘wild allegations’’ from a desperate challenger. Perdue staffers said the election proved Taylor’s claims never resonated with Georgia voters.
    Perdue faced only token opposition in the July primary, allowing him to save the state’s largest campaign warchest — most recently counted at $13.6 million — for the general election.
    Throughout the campaign, he trumpeted job growth and a healthy state budget, as well as a new Kia Motor Co. plant set to open in Troup County near the Alabama border. And he vowed to scrap the tax on retirement income for those age 65 and over.
    In ads that have saturated the airwaves, former Democratic Gov. Zell Miller boasted of what ‘‘Sonny did,’’ and Perdue and his wife encouraged Georgians to contribute to a ‘‘Sonny do’’ list if he’s elected to a second term.
    Taylor had made health care a centerpiece of his campaign, vowing to provide low-cost health insurance for children whose parents make too much to qualify for state programs but not enough to afford private insurance.
    And he sought to show he’s tough on crime by pledging to build more prisons, supporting a constitutional amendment to end parole for violent felons and pushing for the death penalty for repeat violent child molesters.
    On The Net:
    Gov. Sonny Perdue:
    Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor:
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