A new poll shows State Senator Jason Carter getting a surprising amount of support from GOP voters in the lead-up to November’s gubernatorial election against Governor Nathan Deal, and a veteran political analyst has downgraded the race from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.”

The poll, administered by Apache Political Communications in conjunction with The Hicks Evaluation Group, surveyed 923 residents who plan on voting in the Georgia Republican primary. 7.7% of respondents said they would vote for Jason Carter should he win the Democratic primary as expected and face off against Gov. Deal, which is almost double the GOP support many expected Carter to have at this point.

“If this is not merely an expression of anti-Deal sentiment, and Jason Carter is actually turning the Republican base away from an incumbent Republican Governor, then the November election could be much closer than previously expected,” said pollster Fred Hicks in a press release.

“Based on the results from the last Governor’s race, Carter needs to switch 9.5% of Deal’s 2010 voters to his side in order to win,” said Hicks. “While that seemed like a remote possibility at the time of Senator Carter’s announcement, these results make this race one to watch.”

The same day the poll was released, Professor Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, downgraded Georgia’s governor’s race from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.”

Two polls from last month on a general election matchup showed varying fortunes for Carter, with an AJC poll showing 47% for Deal versus 38% for Carter (with 15% undecided) and an Insider Advantage poll showing 44% for Deal versus 22% for Carter (with 34% undecided).

Carter received the backing of Georgia Equality in his successful 2010 race for the state Senate District 42 seat, and has vowed to accept Medicaid expansion (or at least a hybrid plan similar to Arkansas, Iowa and Kentucky’s) if elected. Carter said Deal has “an amazing fear of the responsibility of leadership” on the issue.

Deal’s refusal to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in Georgia is hitting lower income residents hard, many of whom are LGBT and/or living with HIV. There are roughly 650,000 state residents living without insurance who could have it if Deal accepted the funds, and according to one study it could save over 3,600 lives.

Deal has also been plagued by ethics issues since before he took office in 2010, and he is being called to testify in a lawsuit of a former state ethics commission employee who is alleging retaliation for investigating complaints against the governor.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders

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