GAINESVILLE - A North Georgia congressman on Friday became the latest Republican to jump into the 2010 race for governor, telling a crowd of several hundred supporters that he has the experience and independence to lead the state through turbulent times.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal said that if elected he'll be a governor who 'does his own thinking, ties his own shoes and can deliver a speech without a teleprompter.'
The remark seemed designed to establish the 66-year-old from Gainesville as the senior Republican in the crowded five-person race. A one-time Democrat and former state senator, Deal is one of the longest-serving members of Georgia's congressional delegation.
He began eyeing the race after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle - an early Republican favorite - withdrew for health reasons last month. Both men are from Gainesville and share the same north Georgia political base.
Four Republicans have already started down what is promising to be an arduous campaign trail. They are Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, state Sen. Eric Johnson and state Rep. Austin Scott.
Deal's announcement outside the Hall County Courthouse could complete the GOP field, with the primary still more than one year away. Several other prominent Georgia Republicans have said they will not run to replace Sonny Perdue when his second term expires.
Deal reached out to Christian conservatives, who will be critical in a GOP primary, saying he's a candidate who 'acknowledges the guiding hand of God in the affairs of men.'
He also highlighted education, health care, transportation and water issues as key to his campaign. His district includes Lake Lanier, the watershed that feeds metro-Atlanta, and he pledged Friday to bring an end to the state's lengthy battle with Alabama and Florida over water rights.
'It's time to state our rightful claims to the water, which by the bounty of God fall upon and run through our great state,' he said.
Talking to reporters after his speech, Deal said his biggest challenge will be boosting his name recognition outside his North Georgia district. He will also have his hands full raising money in what could be the most expensive race in state history.