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Perdue facing primary challenge

ATLANTA - Ask any student of Political Science 101 whether Georgia's first Republican governor in 130 years should expect to draw a primary opponent when seeking re-election, and the answer would be "no."

Yet Gov. Sonny Perdue will face a challenger on July 18 for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, although one he is favored to defeat easily.

Ray McBerry, 38, a political neophyte from McDonough, is positioning himself squarely on the incumbent's right, arguing that Perdue - a former Democrat - isn't conservative enough for mainstream Georgia Republicans.

"In 1998, when Sonny switched parties, it wasn't because he had some Damascus Road conversion,'' McBerry said, referring to the Apostle Paul's conversion to Christianity. "It was because he felt the winds of political change blowing.''

Perdue is choosing to ignore McBerry's candidacy, as might be expected of an incumbent with a huge campaign war chest and an opponent who has neither money nor name recognition.

"Regardless of his primary or general election opponent, the governor will continue to build on his record of accomplishment and lay out his vision for the future,'' said Derrick Dickey, spokesman for the Perdue campaign.

Right-wing opposition to Perdue began in 2003, his first year in office, when supporters of the 1956 Georgia flag became incensed when he signed legislation that left the banner off a March 2004 referendum. So-called "flaggers'' accused the governor of backing off a pledge to guarantee not just a vote on the state flag but a ballot that would include the '56 banner and its Confederate battle emblem.

Voters ended up approving the current flag over a version of the flag pushed through the General Assembly in 2001 by former Gov. Roy Barnes.

McBerry has been endorsed by both the Southern Party of Georgia and the Southern Heritage Political Action Committee, which support the '56 flag.

"If we're elected, we're going to fulfill Sonny's promise to give the people a vote,'' McBerry said.

But McBerry said his campaign goes beyond the flag flap to other issues where he says Perdue stopped short of taking a true conservative stand. His short list includes abortion and eminent domain.

He said as governor, he would push a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of unborn children.

On eminent domain, McBerry criticized Perdue for introducing a bill that allows local governments to condemn "blighted properties'' rather than supporting stricter legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, that didn't contain such a loophole.

The Legislature passed both Perdue's bill and an accompanying constitutional amendment.

McBerry characterized Perdue as a "neo-conservative'' in the mold of President Bush, who also has drawn criticism from some right-wing Republicans for being too moderate, particularly in supporting legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.

"The neo-cons do this every time,'' McBerry said. "They act like they've solved a problem when they've fallen far short of addressing it.''

The winner of the Republican primary will face the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in November.