ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is joining GOP candidates across the country increasingly working to tie their Democratic opponents to President Barack Obama in the final days of his campaign against Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
Voters in Georgia have been inundated with ads against Democrat Michelle Nunn in the U.S. Senate race focused on five words: "I defer to the president's judgment."
The quote came during a primary debate at the height of a controversy over long wait times for medical care and other problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it has followed Nunn ever since as Republican David Perdue fights to hold the seat.
Deal doesn't have the same quote ammo as Perdue, and instead frequently refers to Carter as "the state senator from Chicago" and calls the Democrat's plan to expand Medicaid as "CarterCare." Carter was born in Atlanta, spent much of his childhood in Chicago and held a Georgia state senate seat for two terms before jumping into the governor's race.
Libertarian Andrew Hunt also is on the Nov. 4 ballot.
This week, Deal went a step further — warning supporters that Carter would use the governor's office as a stepping stone to higher office and asking reporters why the Democrat hasn't appeared beside Obama as high-profile surrogates visit the Peach State in the election's final days. He also has worked the phrase "Washington math" into his stump speech during stops across the state as a hit on the "fiscal conservative" description Carter trumpets during his own campaign events.
Carter largely has ignored Deal's 17 years in Congress, focusing instead on the state's economy and education system during the incumbent's first term. On Wednesday after casting his vote early in Atlanta, Carter said Deal's record as governor "deserves to be changed."
"The governor has spent a lot more time in Washington than I ever spent in Chicago," he said. "He is infatuated with Washington politics and it has led us to the bottom."
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the comparison of Carter to Obama should worry voters, and criticized Carter for not providing more detail of how he will meet promises to boost funding for education and expand Medicare without raising taxes. Carter has said he would eliminate waste, collect unpaid taxes and make better use of state Lottery revenues.
"Americans are universally disappointed by the hope and change we've gotten over the last six years," Robinson said. "Now Georgians are being offered hope and change by another state senator with no record to speak of."
Obama lost Georgia twice to Republican presidential candidates, and it's possible his unpopularity here could affect Democrats — even without the type of quote being used against Nunn, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
"If you're unhappy with the president but he's not on the ballot, you may take it out on his party," Bullock said.