In the heat of a nasty election season in Georgia, what can bring divided Republicans and Democrats together? Georgia football.
Gov. Nathan Deal and Democrat Jason Carter both blasted the NCAA on Wednesday for extending a suspension against Georgia tailback Todd Gurley. It was a rare showing of bipartisanship in a race dominated by sharply contrasting views on education, ethics and the economy.
The two candidates both signaled their support for the star, who was suspended for two more games as punishment for accepting money from memorabilia dealers, amid a grueling stretch of campaign stops ping-ponging around Georgia.
“I’m disappointed in the NCAA. That’s a little bit long in terms of suspending him. But at least he’ll be back for the Auburn game,” Deal said during an interview after an event in Tifton. “I’m not aware of anything we can do about it, except to do as I have done: express our disappointment with the way we have handled this situation.”
Carter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at a metro Atlanta stop that he thought the suspension was “harsh.”
“You have a system that is broken and you have got to fix it,” he said. “That to me shows we have a really broken system that is unfair.”
The Democrat, who plans to stump in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday ahead of the rowdy annual Georgia-Florida game, was met Tuesday by students in Athens chanting “Free Gurley” at a rally.
“What kind of a country do we live in where someone else makes all of the money off what you do and you are not allowed to use your own name?” Carter asked. “That is outrageous to me.”
Deal and Carter first found common ground between the end zones earlier this month when they signaled their support for Gurley with dueling tweets on the #FreeGurley bandwagon. And Gurley’s dilemma factored into a gubernatorial debate last week, when Carter pivoted to an attack on Deal’s higher education policy.
Both candidates are looking for an edge in the razor-thin contest. Polls show Deal with a slight lead over Carter, a two-term state senator from Atlanta who has constantly criticized the governor’s education funding proposals and philosophy on economic development. Both are quietly bracing for a December runoff, as most polls show the two failing to earn 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election.
The University of Georgia’s rabid fan base is a juicy target for candidates, and both held large tailgates on campus before the football team’s home opener in August. The governor is a Mercer University graduate, but many of his staffers and administration members are Georgia alumni. Carter, who went to Duke University as an undergraduate, graduated from Georgia’s law school in 2004.
The Great Gurley Accord is a shock of agreement in an otherwise testy campaign. The governor on Wednesday said Carter was using “Washington math” with his vow to boost education funding without raising taxes by cutting waste in Georgia’s budget.
“A billion dollars of waste is not there,” he said at a campaign stop in Tifton. “And if it was, why didn’t he offer amendments to the state budget?”
Carter, a two-term state senator, took his own shot at the incumbent Republican before walking into a south DeKalb polling station where he cast an early ballot for himself.
“There are a lot of Republicans in the state Senate that are really glad it is a secret ballot,” Carter said. “Because a lot of them are my good buddies and they have been threatened and cajoled by the governor.”
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