David Pennington, mayor of Dalton, speaks at Poole's BBQ March 21, 2013
ELLIJAY, Ga. -- David Pennington is a Republican who says somebody needs to challenge Gov. Nathan Deal when Deal runs for re-election in 2014. That challenger could be Pennington.
"What have they done in three years, period?" Pennington asked, referring to the Capitol's Republican leadership. "There is no leadership down there."
Pennington gave what sounded an awful lot like a stump speech to a lunchtime crowd at Poole's barbecue in Ellijay. Without mentioning Deal's name, he said the Governor has fallen short on tax reform, ethics and competence.
"Four more years of this, in 2018 if not before, this state's going back to a Democrat governor," Pennington said. "And let me tell you, this Democrat will not be our father's conservative southern Democrat that we knew twenty years ago. This will be the liberal variety."
Pennington got a lot of encouragement from a tea party-friendly crowd at Poole's. The crowd included Karen Handel, the former Secretary of State who nearly beat Deal in the Republican primary in 2010. She made it clear she was not there to endorse Pennington's possible candidacy.
"I think he's done a reasonably good job," Handel blandly said when asked by 11Alive News to assess Deal's performance. "I think the governor has met the commitments he's made to the people of Georgia."
Handel says she's pondering a US Senate race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia).
Any challenger to Gov. Deal would face an incumbent who has already raised more than three million dollars and hasn't lost an election in thirty years. Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson writes:
"Gov. Deal retains strong approval ratings from Republicans who would vote in the primary because of his record of conservative accomplishments. It's doubtful the mayor could win his own county."
"It's not that I'm against Nathan. It's that I'm for David Pennington," said Joe McCutchen, a Gilmer County Republican activist who introduced Pennington to the crowd in Ellijay. "I think David will be a great governor of Georgia."
Across the country, upstart conservatives have successfully challenged establishment incumbent Republicans. Sen. Chambliss sidestepped such a challenge by announcing his retirement.
David Pennington isn't a household name. But with more than a year to go before a potential GOP primary, but he has lots of time to change that.