ALBANY, Ga. -- The clock's ticking down as crowded fields in both the Democratic and Republican races for nominations for governor look for those final votes that can get them a berth in what will likely be runoff elections for both parties.
Eric Johnson, a Savannah Republican and former state senator and president pro-tem of the Senate, was on a tour of Southwest Georgia Thursday and early today before heading north for a series of final GOP gubernatorial debates over the final campaign weekend. He said he was making the southern tour of the state, which started in Southeast Georgia, so that voters would know he hadn't forgotten about this end of the state.
"We feel very positive," he said while in Albany Thursday. "People are finally paying attention and checking us out."
The field of GOP candidates includes former Secretary of State Karen Handel, former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, Jeff Chapman of Brunswick, Ray McBerry of McDonough and Otis Putnam of Brunswick.
Almost daily, new poll results are released indicating who's ahead in the seven-candidate race. On Thursday, a poll released by Handel's campaign showed her leading with 32 percent of surveyed voters, followed by Deal and Oxendine at 18 percent each and Johnson at 12 percent. According to that survey by Magellan Strategies that was taken July 8 -- before Sarah Palin's endorsement of Handel -- 14 percent of Republican voters were still undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.
"Polls are all over the map," Johnson said, adding that some are showing him ahead of Deal. "It's not a usual year for polling.
"And the only poll that counts in the one next Tuesday. The voters are the ones in charge and every time the voters remind us of it with a couple of surprises."
Asked whether the unusually large number of gubernatorial candidates -- seven for each major party, plus a Libertarian -- has voters confused or reluctant to commit the time to examine each candidate thoroughly, Johnson conceded that it could be a factor. Some, he suggested, may be waiting until November when it's "The R's versus the D's."
He also said the economic woes Georgians are experiencing has cut down on expensive traditional campaign media.
"The economy has kept fundraising down," he said. "Voters are struggling to find out who the candidates are and what they stand for." He said it hasn't helped that some of his opponents have turned to negative campaigning.
What he has been finding, he said, is the voters are unhappy with what went on in the previous election, and that, he believes, will make them receptive to a proven conservative who has run a business for 25 years. While he's served in the state Legislature 18 years, he says that is a part-time job, while Oxendine has been on the public payroll full time for 18 years as insurance commissioner, Handle eight years as secretary of state and Deal 18 years in the U.S. House. Johnson said he thinks the undercurrent that has many candidates concerned -- the tea partiers -- will prefer his record of service as "a part-time citizen legislator like our Founding Fathers wanted."
Regarding issues, jobs and the economy comes out on top throughout the state, and it will be a tough issue for the next governor to tackle since it appears the state budget that started July 1 may very well have a huge funding hole in it that the Legislature will have to tackle in January, he said.
Two issues that will be critical to Southwest Georgians, he said, are water and the 2011 redistricting, which will cost rural Georgia seats in the state Legislature and make rural congressional districts larger.
Johnson noted that he was involved in the lawsuit against then-Gov. Roy Barnes a decade ago that got a Democratic-drawn map tossed in favor of one Johnson said was fairer.
Regarding water, Johnson said litigation should continue while the next governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida work to resolve the issue. He said Congress will have to step in because Atlanta's use of Lake Lanier that is not an intended purpose of the manmade lake is not unique in the United States. He said solutions include smaller, interconnected reservoirs and raising the capacity of Lanier.
But Johnson said he is firmly opposed to both damming the Flint River -- a proposal that has been pushed by Deal in Congress -- and taking water from south Georgia and pumping it to Atlanta.
"Allowing Atlanta to take water from downstream residents is not acceptable to me," he said.