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What a difference a day makes.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal spent months during the primary convincing voters he's more conservative than his opponents.
The day news broke that Deal clinched his party's nomination, liberal bloggers asked whether he was too far to the right.
The most high-profile instance took place during a White House press briefing Aug. 11, when a correspondent from the liberal Huffington Post asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the election.
"In the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary, the winner in that race, Representative Deal, has actually dabbled in birther conspiracies," Sam Stein said.
Deal? Dabbling in conspiracy theories that Obama is not a natural-born citizen?
Birther conspiracies were discredited as far back as 2008. The notion is so closely tied to conservative extremism that many politicians won't touch it.
During the primary, at least one of Deal's Republican opponents complained Deal went too far down the birther path.
Deal needs to woo moderates to win in November. If his opponents tie him to the birther movement, they may damage his chances.
For the most part, major left-leaning news outlets and bloggers avoid calling Deal an actual birther. Stein said Deal "dabbled" in birtherism. A liberal blog and news site, Talking Points Memo, classified Deal as a "birther-curious" politician who "dipped a toe in the birther pool."
Dabble generally means to take part in something casually or superficially -- to not take it seriously. We will focus on claims that he did that with birther conspiracies.
Deal's spokesman Brian Robinson said the candidate is in no way a birther, and he didn't dabble in the subject.
"That is untrue. He did not dabble in birther conspiracies," Robinson said.
"He is saying, 'I have no reason to believe you (President Obama) are not a natural born citizen. Just show it. That's all. We could put this to rest and move on," Robinson said.
Deal's constituents were concerned, but Deal didn't focus on the issue, Robinson said.
Deal's most widely-publicized brush with birthers took place in November, while Deal was still a congressman. A reporter asked in an online chat if Deal thought Obama was born in the States.
"I am joining several of my colleagues in the House in writing a letter to the president asking that he release a copy of his birth certificate so we can have an answer to this question," Deal replied.
Deal sent the letter in December, though no one else signed on. In January, one of his congressional staffers gave that scoop to a birther-sympathetic Web site.
"P. Patriot" of The Post & Email, which describes itself as a web site of "citizen journalists" who "speak the truth without the restrictions or doctrinaire principles of Socialism and Marxism", said the letter showed Deal understood the "magnitude and gravity of the situation." The post's title: "Deal Challenges Obama’s Eligibility."
At the time, whether the letter said what birthers claimed wasn't clear. No one released a copy.
Last week, the Deal campaign gave one to PolitiFact Georgia. It's no birther manifesto.
Deal wrote, "I accept your assurance you meet that requirement, and in no way intend to show anything but respect for the Office of President and for you personally."
Deal said that his constituents were concerned about the President's citizenship. He asked where he could find a publicly available "birth certificate or other documentary evidence" that lays out Obama's case.
So the letter bolsters the Deal campaign's claim that he is not a birther. But Deal's other statements muddy the waters.
In a July 2009 video aired on MSNBC, Deal talked to liberal blogger and activist Mike Stark. Stark provided an unedited version to PolitiFact Georgia.
"There’s been a lot in the news about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Do you believe he was born in America and anyone who believes otherwise is a little bit cuckoo?" Stark asked Deal.
"I wouldn’t say that. I have no idea where he was born at," Deal replied.
Deal added this caveat: "I take his word for it. He’s the President and he’s sworn to tell the truth, so I assume that he has."
Deal elaborated on his doubts to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a November 2009 article. He said he had "no reason to think" that Obama is not a legal U.S. citizen but the documentation "leaves many things to be desired."
"It obviously does not have the signature of a doctor. Most birth certificates or even certificates of live birth have those kinds of verifications," Deal said.
If Deal had a change of heart between November of last year, when he expressed these doubts, and December, when he told the president he had none, we found no evidence that he tried to make that clear to the public.
Deal had a chance to clarify his position during a January GOP gubernatorial debate. Opponent state Rep. Austin Scott, now a candidate for Congress, accused Deal of "calling for childish things like the president to show his birth certificate."
"I have simply asked the president, 'tell me where I can refer these constituent inquiries to a source that you think is credible so that we can answer their questions'," Deal replied. "I think that's a reasonable proposition and certainly something that I think the president should respond to. Although at this point he has not."
In a February video posted on the Web, Deal distanced himself from birthers by saying "I'm not questioning his legitimacy as the president." But he did not say he accepted Obama's explanation.
Instead, he said this: "I know that some folks have tried to to label this [Deal's letter] as politically incorrect. I want to tell you something. Political incorrectness is paralyzing our society. These kind of things deserve straightforward responses."
So did Deal dabble in birther conspiracies?
PolitiFact Georgia found no evidence that Deal is a birther. In fact, we found proof to the contrary. But Deal did give birthers the chance to think he was taking some of their theories seriously.
Privately, in an unreleased letter, he told the President that he did "accept" Obama's assurances that he met the office's citizenship requirements. Publicly, Deal expressed doubts about Obama's birth certificate.
The letter was only released now, so birthers were free to fill in the blanks. And it's clear they saw Deal as an ally.
Deal said that all the letter did was relay constituent concerns to the President. But when he sent the letter, he lent birthers a credence that others would not.
Birther claims were discredited by 2008. Deal still treated their claims as if they had substance in 2010.
Yes, Deal dabbled in birther conspiracies. We rule this claim Mostly True.
White House Press Briefing, Transcript, Aug. 11, 2010
White House Press Briefing, Video, Aug. 11, 2010
Slate, "Nathan Deal: Exhibit A of Why Birtherism Isn't a Career Killer," Aug. 11, 2010
Creative Loafing, "White House slaps Nathan Deal around," Aug. 12, 2010
Talking Points Memo, "Know Your Republican Birthers: Which Pols Have Dipped A Toe In The Birther Pool?",
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Deal to quiz Obama on birth," Nov. 7, 2009
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Deal joins request to settle birther question," Nov. 8, 2009
The Post & Email, "Deal Challenges Obama’s Eligibility," Jan. 5, 2010
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Political Insider blog, "White House confirms receipt of Nathan Deal letter questioning birthplace of Barack Obama," Jan. 8, 2010
PolitiFact.com, "Obama's birth certificate: Final chapter," June 27, 2008
Factcheck.org, "Born in the U.S.A," Aug. 21, 2008
Firedoglake.com "Birthers, Part Deux: Republicans Divided," July 29, 2009
YouTube.com, "Obama Ignores Congressman Nathan Deal's Letter - Obama Birth Certificate," Feb. 10, 2010
Athens Banner-Herald, "GOP gubernatorial foes face off in debate," Jan. 20, 2010
FoxNews.com, "Gubernatorial Candidates Echo Theories of Birthers, 9/11 Truthers", Feb. 12, 2010
Interview, Brian Robinson, spokesman, Nathan Deal for Governor, Aug. 17, 2010
Interview, Mike Stark, blogger, www.starkreports.com, Aug. 18, 2010
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