Tea party favorite backs Libertarian in Georgia governor’s race

Libertarian Andrew Hunt hopes that he can convert disillusioned voters after receiving the endorsement of ex-Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who rallied discontents in a failed GOP primary bid against incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal. But bringing the tea party faithful into the fold might be difficult, as many conservatives still hesitate to support a third-party candidate.

Even as Pennington announced his support for Hunt, he acknowledged the angst many voters have when backing a clear outsider and underdog.

“People say you waste your vote when you vote for a third-party candidate,” Pennington said. “I believe that you waste your vote when you vote for somebody who does not share your beliefs.”

The 54-year-old Hunt is running on his business background as the founder of the multimillion-dollar nanotechnology company nGimat. Other than a long-shot hope of winning outright, Hunt vies to pull at least 20 percent of the vote, which would give the Libertarian Party in Georgia expanded ballot access.

“It’s definitely a groundbreaker,” Hunt said of the endorsement. “Everyone should vote who is the best candidate and not look at the party.”

Hunt’s independent platform of lower taxes, decreased incentives for large corporations and limited government spending has him between 3 percent and 7 percent in most polls — which could be enough to deprive Deal or Democrat Jason Carter of a majority and force a December runoff.

The endorsement from Pennington, a tea party favorite, could help with that. He received 17 percent of the vote in his earlier bid to unseat Deal, appealing to fiscal conservatives who felt the governor hadn’t done enough to cut taxes and spending.

“It does raise the possibility that the general election won’t determine the winner,” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist.

Whether disenchanted Republicans will follow in Pennington’s footsteps is still unclear. Jerry Kotyuk, a member of the Georgia Tea Party’s board of directors, said the anti-tax Pennington was popular among many tea partyers and the far right. But he doesn’t believe that goodwill would translate to the ballot box.

“If you have this guy, Deal, who has done a pretty good job though he isn’t perfect, why change horses midstream?” Kotyuk said. “We’re not sure what (Hunt) is going to do.”

Tom Brown, the chief operating officer of Georgians for Fair Taxation, wasn’t sure that Pennington’s endorsement would give Hunt a boost.

“I don’t know,” said Brown, whose organization advocates implementation of the Fair Tax, a popular conservative rallying call that would shift the government’s dependence on income taxes to sales taxes. “My desire would have been that Pennington would have gotten more excitement.”

Some Republicans felt the former GOP governor hopeful went too far by endorsing an outside candidate, accusing him online of having a personal vendetta against Deal dating to his primary loss. But Pennington said Hunt won him over by supporting income tax reduction, tort and malpractice reform, and decreased government spending.

“There’s no sour grapes to it,” Pennington said, “All three candidates had a chance, if they wanted my support, to once again commit to what I really believe in: limited government.”