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SHANNON McCAFFREY

Associated Press Writer

GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Nathan Deal pulled out some political star power Sunday, stumping with former presidential contender Mike Huckabee just two days before a runoff election that will bring the state's bruising GOP primary season to a close.

At a rally that drew about 700 supporters in Deal's hometown of Gainesville, Huckabee called Deal "a principled conservative who doesn't have to go back to his own campaign literature to see what he's going to do."

As Georgia's Republican gubernatorial slugfest hurtles to the finish line, Deal and his runoff opponent Karen Handel are rolling out their political heavyweights. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is set to headline a rally with Handel on Monday in Atlanta.

Talking to reporters following Sunday's rally, Deal called Palin "a hero" to many conservatives and welcomed her to the state. But the former congressman said he preferred the backing from Huckabee, with whom he worked on Medicaid reform when Huckabee was governor of Arkansas.

"Endorsements from folks who actually know you - people who've actually worked with you - means a whole lot more than somebody who maybe is just passing through the state," he said.

Handel and Deal were the top vote getters in Georgia's July 20 primary and are locked in a battle for their party's nomination and the right to take on Democrat Roy Barnes in the November general election. The three-week runoff has been bitter, with Handel hammering away at Deal's ethics. Deal has said Handel is too liberal on issues from gay rights to abortion and he's also drawn attention to Handel's lack of a college degree.

On Sunday, Huckabee offered what he called a "personal reference" for Deal saying he as been a consistent opponent of abortion as well as a staunch supporter of guns rights and states rights.

"He understands that there is something called the 10th amendment to the Constitution allowing states to make decisions," Huckabee said.

Huckabee talked at length about Deal's work on Medicaid reform which he said had saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

"He personally got his jacket off, rolled up his sleeves and sat down with us," Huckabee said.

Now a Fox News Channel host, Huckabee won Georgia's Republican presidential primary in 2008 with 34 percent of the vote.

He was buoyed by support from the state's conservative evangelical voters and supporters of the fair tax, which would eliminate the federal income tax. Deal also supports the fair tax.

"I sure wish the rest of the country was as smart as Georgia was," Huckabee quipped.

Deal also has the backing of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Palin, Gingrich and Huckabee are all mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2012. But Huckabee said Sunday that presidential politics were not on his mind when he agreed to back Deal.

"This is nothing about the future. This is about the now," Huckabee said.

Deal is set to hit seven cities throughout Georgia on Monday.

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