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ATLANTA -- Two years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal's re-election seemed almost inevitable. The Republican was guiding Georgia through a slow economic recovery, and no Democrat seemed willing to take him on. But now, Deal appears very vulnerable to the challenge of Democrat Jason Carter.

In a poll taken late last week, voters told 11alive's pollster they favored Deal by a margin of 41 to 37 percent. The SurveyUSA poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent. View crosstabs here.

"This is a competitive race," said Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), a Carter supporter. "If I were on Gov. Deal's team, I would be very, very concerned that he's only at 42 (percent) in a state that purportedly is a red state."

The poll shows that Carter is strong with African American and women voters. It shows Deal's strength lies with white, Hispanic and male voters.

"The general election race is not as close as this poll makes it look," said Republican consultant Mike Hassinger. He said Deal's numbers are low because Republicans John Barge and David Pennington are challenging Deal in the primary.

Our poll shows Deal is the overwhelming favorite to beat them. Republican voters polled put Deal at 64%, Pennington at 11% and Barge at 10%, with a margin of error of 4.5%.

Hassinger thinks some GOP voters supporting his challengers are telling pollsters they are wittholding their support from Deal-- for now.

"I don't think it's going to shift by the fall in Jason Carter's favor," Hassinger said. "(Carter is) going to have a strong run. No doubt about that. But in the end, I don't think there's enough disaffected Republicans who are willing to support a Democrat for governor."

Of course the November election is six months away. Both sides say to read a springtime poll as a snapshot of current voter attitudes -- and not much more.

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