ATLANTA — The campaign stops featured warm and fuzzy, feel-good settings, but the candidates for Georgia governor pounded each other rhetorically on Monday as voter registration closed and they prepared for their first head-to-head debate.
Republican Nathan Deal and his wife, Sandra, gathered with women supporters at the state Capitol, and Democrat Jason Carter and his wife, Kate, read to 4- and 5-year-olds at a prekindergarten facility.
The race hasn't exactly been friendly until now. Deal and Carter held little back when they appeared together at an education forum last month. But with less than a month before the Nov. 4 ballot, both campaigns are zeroing in.
Incumbent Deal's campaign began running a tough ad this weekend in the Atlanta metro area, calling Carter a "silver-tongued" politician who would increase spending by $12.5 billion. Carter started the day at a prekindergarten facility south of Atlanta where he criticized Deal for cuts to the state's often hailed pre-K program.
He flatly told reporters the number in Deal's ad was "made up."
"My record as a fiscal conservative is clear," Carter said. "I have never voted for a tax increase. I believe in balancing the budget every single year. I believe in tough budgeting choices."
Deal campaign spokesman Brian Robinson said the total is a 10-year budget projection with expanded funding for Medicaid and education. Deal defended the ad at an event featuring his wife and former secretary of state Karen Handel, who endorsed the incumbent despite losing a bruising campaign to him in 2010 for the GOP nomination.
"Politics is a contact sport, and if you're gonna give it you better be prepared to receive it," Deal said. "I don't think our ads do anything other than point out the truth. You cannot make promises to the people of Georgia that you know you cannot live up to without raising taxes."
The Republican Governors Association reported Monday that it will give an additional $1 million to help Deal win re-election, totaling $2.6 million to date.
Carter, Deal and Libertarian candidate Andrew Hunt meet Tuesday night at the Georgia State Fair in Perry, with the parties planning to bus in supporters to fill the live audience.
Carter gave a quick preview of his strategy to focus on education, the economy and ethics, while Deal's supporters on Monday played up a new message pitting the wisdom of a former congressman against the inexperience of a one-term state senator.