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First contender emerges to challenge Gov Deal, and he's Republican

Gov. Nathan Deal testifies before the House Appropriations Committee about his budget plan, Jan. 22, 2013, in Atlanta. Gov. Deal told Georgia lawmakers his legislative agenda will be less elaborate because a still-weak economy is curtailing state spending.  The Republican governor on Tuesday presented his changes to the state's current budget and a $40.8 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

Gov. Nathan Deal testifies before the House Appropriations Committee about his budget plan, Jan. 22, 2013, in Atlanta. Gov. Deal told Georgia lawmakers his legislative agenda will be less elaborate because a still-weak economy is curtailing state spending. The Republican governor on Tuesday presented his changes to the state's current budget and a $40.8 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

DALTON — Gov. Nathan Deal may face a bigger challenge from his right than from his left in his bid for re-election next year.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said he's filed paperwork with the state ethics commission and plans to challenge Deal in next year's Republican primary. With no Democrats yet in the race, Pennington is so far the only candidate to challenge the governor.

"Our leadership is failing us," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "We need ethical leadership that will focus on job creation, not scoring political points. We need a proven, job-creating businessman to take the reins."

The mayor has rumbled about a run for months, stumping across Georgia with a message that Democrats will return to power unless "true conservative" principles are embraced. During the legislative session, he routinely sent email blasts bashing Deal over ethics reform, health care spending and tax cuts.

"Georgia will be devastated in the next recession. And by that point, the true liberals are going to say conservative principles have failed us," he said at a Forsyth County event in April. "But we haven't had any conservative principles. We've had Republicans masquerading as conservatives. And if we don't watch out, we'll lose out."

His decision to run came as no surprise, but his odds remain steep. He faces a powerful incumbent who has managed to keep his fractious party in line and largely pacified rumblings from his right flank. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' retirement only helped by drawing other potential Deal rivals into the race for that open seat.

But Pennington, a fast-talking insurance executive in his second term as Dalton's mayor, sees an opening. Democrats have so far struggled to coalesce behind a likely contender, leaving a void for a challenger he hopes to fill. And Pennington may be hoping he's in position in case a scandal or stumble trips up Deal.

Deal's campaign, which reported about $1.1 million in its treasury this week, has publicly questioned whether the north Georgia mayor is living in a "fantasyland." And Deal trumpeted the news in May that Engineered Floors, a carpet upstart, was creating 2,400 new jobs in Pennington's back yard.