A full-fledged Sandra Deal roll-out on the campaign trail

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Gov. Nathan Deal is increasingly relying on his wife Sandra in the final weeks of the campaign.

She's the star of his new ad. She makes guest appearances at phone-bank events. And yesterday the tandem hit a flurry of middle Georgia schools together to read to students, with local TV cameras in tow.

Deal's strategists hope Sandra's soft edge and education pedigree can cut into the emerging gender gap that's endangering her husband's re-election.

Some polls have Democrat Jason Carter beating her husband among women by double-digits. Deal also has a similar lead among men, but since women make up 56 percent of the electorate, they play an outsized role in any political calculus.

During a campaign stop at Byron, Deal's campaign made Sandra available for her first in-depth interview. At the same time, Carter and his wife Kate, also an ex-school teacher, were in Atlanta addressing a PTA conference.

Sandra said her husband has benefited from years of experience which Carter, a 39-year-old state senator, can't yet match.

“Wisdom helps in knowing where and how to do things,” she said. “And I don’t agree with the way he wants to do it.”

She used the w-word - wisdom - a few times in our conversation. Said Sandra:

"I understand a lot of the issues that women are interested in. Jason is a little bit cuter and younger and he has a cute wife. And we can't quite meet that, because we've passed that stage, as we're grandparents at this point. But we do have a lot of wisdom, we think, and the experiences of life we can offer to this position. Because I do understand a lot of the needs and concerns mothers have."

Carter has embraced an education-first message throughout much of the campaign, promising to significantly increase education funding. At Thursday's PTA event, he vowed to "focus on education not just in election years, but every year."

Carter's wife Kate, a journalist-turned-teacher, spoke with my AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon about her own expanding role in the campaign. She fronts the Teachers for Carter group and she's out on the trail speaking with educators and other potential supporters. She said her background gives her a unique vantage.

"I think as a parent of young kids, as a teacher in a local public school for six years and as a nerdy policy person, the ability to connect with people, to know what is going on from a parent point-of-view, a teacher point-of-view, a school administration point-of-view, is exciting for me," Kate Carter said. "I think Jason is going to win it. The idea that we can turn this talk into action is thrilling."

Sandra said there are "weak spots" in schools and she believes teachers need pay hikes. But she said she doesn't believe in Carter's approach, which also involves putting education funding into a separate budget silo in hopes of preventing lawmakers from tinkering with the money.

“I just have to believe that he’s young, and he’s reaching out for what he thinks,” said Sandra, adding: “I believe that Jason has a good heart and that he really believes we need to improve education. I do, too. We just disagree on how to do it.”