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How Gov. Deal is shaping the race to succeed him

May 8 marks the last day that Gov. Nathan Deal can veto legislation that won the General Assembly’s approval during this year’s session. Deal, whose term will end in January, has not been shy about vetoing bills. He rejected nine measures last year, and in 2016 he vetoed two of the most significant bills passed during that session, a campus gun measure and “religious liberty” legislation. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
May 8 marks the last day that Gov. Nathan Deal can veto legislation that won the General Assembly’s approval during this year’s session. Deal, whose term will end in January, has not been shy about vetoing bills. He rejected nine measures last year, and in 2016 he vetoed two of the most significant bills passed during that session, a campus gun measure and “religious liberty” legislation. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The most liked figure in Georgia politics right now is not Donald Trump, Mike Pence, David Perdue or Barack Obama. It’s Gov. Nathan Deal. And his popularity is shaping the crowded race to succeed him.

Not so long ago, Deal was a pariah to some conservatives for his controversial vetoes and loathed by Democrats for refusing to expand Medicaid, enacting crackdowns on illegal immigration and a string of ethics-related issues.

But as the two-term governor enters the final stretch of his political career, even the Democratic candidates are tying themselves to his policies. And Republicans who once bitterly clashed with Deal now talk of him in glowing terms.