Handel, Deal go anti-gay to dismay of GOP voters

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imageHere’s what we don’t get about the GOP runoff for governor: Nathan Deal and Karen Handel are dishing out anti-gay barbs like it’s candy, but Republican voters say social issues aren’t important.

The campaigns, in the final days before Tuesday’s runoff, brought out the national (and anti-gay) star power of Mike Huckabee (for Deal, top photo) and Sarah Palin (for Handel, bottom photo). Both Deal and Handel have tripped over themselves in trying to out anti-gay one another and criticize a Prop. 8 decision that doesn’t have anything to do with Georgia, so much so that a member of their own party chastised them. Even YouthPride, the gay group Deal attacked in a campaign spot, struck back.

Yet a new Mason-Dixon poll published Sunday shows that when it comes to social issues and family values, just three percent of likely Republican runoff voters say it’s the most important issue in the governor’s race. That’s sixth on the list and tied for the bottom with “not sure.” GOP voters rank the economy (43%), government spending/taxes/state budget (30%), immigration (9%), education (7%) and health care (5%) above social issues.

imageHandel leads Deal 47 percent to 42 percent with 11 percent undecided, according to the same poll, which prompted Creative Loafing to predict this for the last few days of an already nasty GOP campaign:

No doubt Deal and Handel are working overtime to find a gay, black, Mexican to publicly demonize before Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal took a stab on Monday at explaining why social issues are at the heart of the Deal-Handel race: It’s a balance between keeping fiscal and social conservatives all in the same, big-tent party.

The race underscores the challenge facing many Republican candidates and organizers this year as they attempt to maintain the sometimes unwieldy partnership of fiscal and social conservatives that has often been the foundation of the party’s power in recent years. With social and anti-tax conservatives energized by tea party groups and popular leaders such as Ms. Palin and Mr. Huckabee, some candidates have tacked hard to the right, but not without the risk of alienating more moderate GOP voters and independents who may be critical in the November general election.

We’ll see. For now, it’s left us scratching our heads and wondering why LGBT Georgians have become the GOP scapegoat this campaign cycle when the polls say voters want substance over social issues.

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