U.S. Rep. Deal leaving Congress to focus on governor’s race

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal will leave Congress a week from today to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

Deal, a Republican in north Georgia’s 9th District, is one of about a dozen people running for governor. He said Monday that the uncertainty of the congressional schedule in Washington is making it difficult to run a statewide campaign.

“It’s simply a matter of having the time to devote to what I think is the most important race in modern history in terms of direction and leadership of our state,” Deal said at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, one of several stops he made Monday as he flew around the state to make his announcement.

Deal is one of about a half-dozen Republicans seeking the governor’s office. Two others, former Secretary of State Karen Handel and former state Sen. Eric Johnson, already have left their elected positions to focus on the race. Others, including state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who leads the race in many polls, state Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, have remained in office.

Deal said he’s leaving Congress because “I’ve had a front-row seat to the damage that inexperience in the executive branch of the federal government has done to our nation.

“My experience has prepared me to be a governor who understands these dangers,” he said. “This is not a time for untested leadership in the governor’s office. The economic future of our state is in peril.”

Critics quickly brought up two concerns with Deal’s decision: that his resignation will mean one fewer GOP vote against health-care reform in Washington, and that it derails a congressional inquiry into whether Deal used political contacts and his congressional staff to protect a contract one of his companies has had with the state.

But Deal said the recent resignation of two Democrats’ and the death of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., more than balances out his resignation when it comes to health care reform. That issue is “still going to be something that the leadership in the House is going to have a difficult time selling the members of the House (on) and getting the majority vote that they need.”

As for the congressional inquiry, it stems from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report in August that detailed his efforts to keep a state government contract one of his companies holds as part of the state’s salvaged-vehicle inspection business. The newspaper reported that Deal personally lobbied state officials to keep the contract in place and that his chief of staff used a congressional e-mail account to set up appointments.

Monday, the AJC reported that Deal’s resignation is likely to end the formal congressional inquiry into that contract. Deal has previously said he welcomed that inquiry and a full airing of the issue. He said Monday “there are other avenues in which that could take place,” but he wasn’t specific.

“I have always been dedicated to doing what’s the best for the citizens of this state,” Deal said Monday. “(I’ve) always been concerned about their safety, and I will continue to be committed to that process.”

Deal was joined at the airport for Monday’s news conference in Macon by about 15 supporters, including Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton.

“I got a lot of faith in him,” Talton said. “And I stand for a lot of the things that he stands for.”

Deal will be replaced in an election this year, though the election date is not yet set. Because Deal already was leaving Congress at the end of this year, several potential replacements already are campaigning for his seat.

U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., announced this past weekend that he also is leaving Congress, but he will finish out his term. Linder represents the 7th Congressional District, which is roughly between metro Atlanta and Athens.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.