Standing before a crowd of more than 500 supporters in Gainesville, Nathan Deal on Friday announced his “quest to be elected governor of Georgia.”
Deal, 66, a nine-term congressman who used his speech to quietly assert his role as a leader, said he “does his own thinking, writes his own speeches and doesn’t use a Teleprompter, and ties his own shoes.”
The congressman, who acknowledged problems with transportation, education and the availability of trauma centers, also called for an end to the state’s 19-year battle with Florida and Alabama over water.
There was no introduction of Deal, who stood alone on the podium with his wife, Sandra.
Among the well-wishers at the kickoff of Deal’s bid for governor were a number of potential candidates to succeed him in the U.S. House.
Among them, former transportation board chairman Mike Evans, former U.S. Rep. Max Burns and state Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville.
They were careful not to take away from Deal’s announcement. Evans announced his bid later in the day.
“This is Nathan’s day,” said Pearson, who said he would be supporting Deal for governor. “I have confidence in him and am willing to roll up my sleeves, along with members of the Senate and House.”
“The possibility of having the governor and the lt. governor both from a neighboring county is going to be great not only for Dawson County, but for all of north Georgia,” Pearson said at an event early last week.
Blue Ridge Republican Rep. David Ralston, whose district includes a portion of western Dawson County, is also considered a potential candidate for Deal’s congressional seat.
Deal has long been mentioned as a candidate for statewide office but only recently surfaced as a potential challenger for the 2010 gubernatorial race.
Deal said he began strongly thinking about running after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, an early Republican favorite, withdrew for health reasons. Until then, Deal said he had planned to defer to fellow Hall Countian Cagle, who shares much of the same North Georgia political base.
Deal was elected in 1980 to the first of six terms in the Georgia state Senate, where he served as chairman of the judiciary and ethics committees. In his final term, he was elected president pro tempore of the Senate.
Throughout his state Senate service and for his first term in the U.S. House, Deal was a Democrat. In April 1995, following the Republicans’ ascent into the majority in Congress, Deal became a Republican.
Deal is a senior member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over vast sections of the economy, including health care and energy issues. He is the top Republican on the health subcommittee and served as chairman during the Republican majority. He has helped lead negotiations on issues such as Medicaid reform and health insurance for low-income children.
He also has been involved in immigration, sponsoring legislation in 2005 that would end automatic birthright citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants.
Deal was the second candidate to announce last week. State Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, announced his bid last Monday after originally running for lieutenant governor.
Others already in the GOP race include Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, state Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and Ray McBerry, a McDonough businessman who challenged Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2006.
Announced Democrats include former Georgia National Guard commander David Poythress, Attorney General Thurbert Baker and state Rep. DuBose Porter, the House minority leader.
Staff Writer Michele Hester contributed to this report.