As the campaign to become Georgia's next governor hurtles into its final days, Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes are crisscrossing the state by bus to make their final pitches to voters.
It's a time-honored tradition to hit key regions and fire up supporters.
Barnes, a former governor who's seeking his old job back, is traveling the state in a yellow school bus. It's an unmistakable symbol of his campaign's key issue -- education. Deal has invited fellow GOP candidates -- including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Lt. Gov Casey Cagle -- hop aboard for different legs of his journey.
Deal launched his GOP tour under sunny skies on the picturesque square in Marietta, which happens to be Barnes' hometown. Supporters munched on hot dogs and potato chips as the former congressman and other members of the Republican ticket clambered up the steps of a gazebo to deliver their pitch.
''Roy Barnes has never won Cobb County in any of the three times he previously ran for governor, and we're not going to let him win it this time,'' Deal said.
Republicans are feeling upbeat this election year. There are predictions of a national GOP wave stoked by dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress. Still, the race for governor in Georgia has been a slugfest and even some Republican faithful fret that it could be a nail-biter.
''These two are both well known in the state, I think it's going to be a real tight race,'' said Ted Daywalt, who runs a group that helps military veterans find employment. ''If I'm a betting man, I'd bet on Nathan right now. But it's not a slam dunk.''
A recent day on the Barnes bus tour began with a stop at Ann's Diner in Forsyth where he met with a few dozen law enforcement supporters and downed some biscuits and coffee.
Taylor County Sheriff Jeff Watson said Barnes has visited his rural county plenty of times.
''That tells me Gov. Barnes is for all of Georgia,'' he said.
John Cary Bittick, sheriff of Monroe County, talked up Barnes tough-on-crime credentials.
''As a law enforcement officer the choice is clear,'' Bittick said.
Barnes underscored a point he has made throughout the campaign: ''We know this state is not going in the right direction.'' He ticked off budget cuts that he says have slowed down evidence moving through the state's crime labs and left jails bursting at the seams.
''I'll give you four years of a state you can be proud of and one that works,'' he said.
Predicting the race would be close, he urged supporters to get their friends and relatives to the polls. He noted that the Republican primary was decided by some 2,500 votes.
''That means one vote change in every precinct would have meant a difference,'' he said.
Deal rumbled next into Cartersville where he and his busload of GOP candidates piled out onto a platform beside the town's old train depot, now a visitor welcome center. A couple dozen people had gathered to hear the Republicans. A few elderly women had set up lawn chairs.
''We're talking about creating jobs for the citizens of this state,'' Deal said, hammering home his message that the best way to boost the state's sluggish economy is to cut taxes to make the state more business friendly.
Danae Gambill, a former GOP state representative who came to watch Deal with her young daughter, said Deal represents the future.
''People have seen what happened in the past with Roy Barnes. They don't want to go back,'' she said.
In the back of the Barnes bus, a gospel song breaks out punctuated by a chorus of ''Amen'' from the former governor, his wife Marie and other supporters who have come aboard.
''I've been to so many churches during this campaign, if my soul's not saved, I'm damned to eternity,'' Barnes says with a rollicking laugh.
The bus eases up to City Hall in Macon where a crowd of excited first- and second-graders in blue plaid uniforms lean over the second-floor balcony to watch the arrival chanting ''We Want Roy.''
His backers used the appearance in front of a gaggle of local TV cameras to lambaste Deal for his votes against domestic violence legislation and what they said were efforts to weaken the state's rape shield law.
''Bad 'Deal' for women, bad 'Deal' for Georgia,'' state Rep. Nikki Randall said, arguing Deal would be bad for ''your mothers, your daughters, your girlfriends and your aunties.''
As the Republican motor coach continues on its way, Deal says Barnes' increasingly pointed attacks can mean only one thing: Republican victory.
''He's getting desperate,'' Deal said after perusing the latest news on the race.
''I've never called Roy Barnes a name he should take offense at,'' Deal told The Associated Press. ''I've called him on his record, and everyone should take offense at that.''
The bus pulls up outside the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center in Dalton, home to carpet mills that have been reeling from the troubled economy. About 100 GOP loyalists are waiting expectantly. This is friendly country. Deal has represented the region for 18 years in Congress. Here, in the mountains, they aren't buying the ethics allegations that have followed Deal through the primary, runoff and general election campaigns.
''The people that know Nathan best do not give that stuff any credence,'' David Blevins, of Cohutta, who is chairman of Deal's Whitfield County operation. ''This is a man that's honest, he's straightforward and he shares our values.''
Deal tells the enthusiastic crowd he will deliver a conservative government that will help weather the tough economic times.
With Libertarian John Monds also on the Nov. 2 ballot, there has been increasing talk that neither Barnes or Deal will pull the needed 50 percent plus one of the vote to win. That would send the race into a four-week runoff.
The Barnes bus bumps along a rutted road to Mason Pecan Farm in Fort Valley.
This is Republican territory but farmers here are angry about Deal's multiple votes against the farm bill while in the U.S. House. Deal has said the bill contained too much social spending on nonfarm-related items like school lunches.
That explanation wasn't cutting it with farmers who said they represent the state's No. 1 industry.
''I'm very conservative,'' said Jeff Wainwright, owner of Taylor Orchards, one of the largest peach growers. ''Eight years ago I was leaning more toward the Republican Party but Roy seems to be a lot more concerned about agriculture and everything going on below the 'gnat line.'''
Thomas Mason, host to the event, picks up the mantra.
''How do you turn the state over to a man who voted against the farm bill?'' Mason said, his voice barely audible over the downpour of rain pelting the roof of the large metal building.
Barnes tells the farmers it's time to stop ''giving lip serve to rural Georgia and our agricultural community.''
''I've been down here so much I think I could claim a homestead exemption,'' Barnes said. ''You elect me and I'll continue to come.''
Larry Snellgrove, a Barnes backer from Warner Robins, urged Georgians to set aside partisanship.
''This election ain't about an 'R' and it ain't about a 'D,''' he said. ''It's about a 'G' for Georgia.''