WASHINGTON - Republican U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia plans to announce Friday that he's running for governor, according to congressional aides and a fellow lawmaker who've been briefed on his plans.
The officials requested anonymity because they were asked not to discuss his plans publicly ahead of a formal announcement.
Deal, 66, has scheduled a press conference Friday in his hometown of Gainesville, and he strongly hinted Wednesday that he will join the race.
'Friday is the day where we make everything public and go from there,' he told The Associated Press.
Deal, a one-time Democrat and former state senator, is one of the most senior members of Georgia's congressional delegation. Elected to Congress in 1992, he has long been mentioned as a candidate for statewide office but only recently surfaced as a potential challenger for the 2010 gubernatorial race.
He 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 Cagle, who also is from Gainesville and shares the same north Georgia political base.
'I've had a lot of support,' Deal said. 'Given my state and federal background, I think I do understand government issues, and that's important for a gubernatorial candidate to have.'
Deal would join a crowded field to replace Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who can't run because of term limits.
Four Republicans are already in the race: Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, state Sen. Eric Johnson and state Rep. Austin Scott.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard commander David Poythress are running. Former Gov. Roy Barnes is also eyeing the contest and has said he will decide whether to jump in by June 1.
Deal, who once pledged to serve six terms and retire in 2004, has won easy re-election in his conservative district recently. He changed parties in the middle of his second congressional term, saying the Democratic Party had grown out of touch with his district.
He 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, where 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.
Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz described Deal as 'pretty low profile.'
'It's hard to think of something he's known for,' Abramowitz said.
Abramowitz said Handel and Oxendine - who have already won statewide office - would have to be considered the early front runners in the race. But the size of the field makes that hard to predict.
He said the large number of GOP candidates 'makes it virtually certain you're going to have a runoff.'
'These candidates are known for a bare knuckles approach and I do think it's going to get pretty nasty. There could be an opening for the Democrats,' Abramowitz said.
Of course, the Democrats could also have a tough primary battle, he said. So it depends on how that race shapes up.