John Barge sees a path to victory over fellow Republican Nathan Deal

Superintendent John Barge is unabashedly in the Republican primary against Gov. Nathan Deal, as we report over at myajc.com, with a message that the state should sharpen its focus on economic development and substantially increase funding for public education.

As he said in an interview today, he wants to make Gov. Nathan Deal work for a second term by forcing a runoff.

“I believe that something has to change. Georgia needs a leader who will govern and not play politics,” Barge said. “Whether we equal his war chest or not, I think what’s more important is what people will do when they go into the voting booth.”

How he intends to get those votes is the tough part. That’s where he sees Sonny Perdue as an example.

In 2002, the little-known Republican state senator ousted then-Gov. Roy Barnes thanks partly to a wave of teacher support. At the time, educator groups were infuriated with Barnes over his plan to end tenure for newly-hired teachers.

Barge’s takeaway: Don’t underestimate the teacher vote.

“We will need teachers to come out in support,” Barge told us. “I would hope that teachers are of the same mindset that I am – when it comes to education that, regardless of the party, they’re going to vote for the right person.”

Luring teachers will take more than determination and pluck. Educators in Georgia typically support Democratic causes, and Barge’s biggest challenge may be trying to convince them to shower him with support at the polls and money to fill his empty campaign treasury. But he hopes to pry away some support, particularly if no big-name Democrat jumps in the contest.

“We have so politicized education over the years and we’ve jerked our teachers around so much that most of our teachers just want to be left alone so they can teach,” Barge said.

Deal’s advantages are daunting. He has more than $1.1 million in his campaign coffers, the support of most establishment Republicans and a wary alliance with tea partiers. And Dalton Mayor David Pennington’s run could splinter the opposition and complicate Barge’s bid. As Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, Barge will be scrapping with Pennington “for the 10 percent of the voters open to a challenger.”

Also something to note: Deal’s not likely to concede the teacher vote, either. With a state surplus topping $600 million, teachers could soon get a raise or other goodies just in time for election season.

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