Barnes has unveiled a new television ad that takes aim at Deal for working to weaken Georgia's rape shield law while in the state Senate. And in a news conference Monday, Barnes ripped into several votes Deal made more than two decades ago against protections for victims of domestic violence.
Barnes on Monday accused Deal of "an insensitivity toward the safety of women."
"This is a pattern," Barnes said, surrounded by rape and domestic violence advocates at a news conference in front of a DeKalb County rape crisis center on Monday. He acknowledged that picking up women's votes will be critical to winning on Election Day.
"But I think rape and domestic violence is something that concerns us all," he said.
The Deal camp has called the attacks "despicable."
"Nathan supported the 2005 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. He's got a tough-on-crime record while Barnes has an anything-for-a-dime record," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, referring to Barnes' record as a trial lawyer.
The Deal campaign declined to make the former congressman available to talk about the legislation.
The increased focus on women voters is no surprise.
Kennesaw State University Kerwin Swint said, nationally, women turn out in greater numbers than men at the polls. And he suggested white women, in particular, tend to be less partisan than their male counterparts.
Barnes' rape shield ad — with its Volvo station wagon and ominous car alarm — seems aimed at "middle-aged, higher income white women," Swint said.
"And they tend to vote in even higher numbers than other groups."
Julia Dixon, a 34-year-old software engineer, said the ad gave her pause.
"I don't know much about Nathan Deal," she said. "But if that's really what he did I would not vote for him. Absolutely not."
But Nancy Goggans, a 56-year-old dental hygienist, was turned off by its harsh tone.
"It seemed nasty to me, sort of below the belt," Goggans said.
The TV ad is paid for the state Democratic Party of Georgia but authorized by Barnes. It references a 1991 rewrite of the state evidence code that Deal, the president pro tempore of the state Senate, proposed. Part of 164-page bill would have made changes to the state's rape shield law to allow — in certain circumstances — defense lawyers t o question victims about their past sexual conduct.
The original legislation was not available through state records. But news accounts from the time show that prosecutors and women's advocates lined up to protest the changes saying they would discourage women from bringing charges against their attacker.
The Deal campaign said Monday the bill would have strengthened protections for victims by expanding the shield to all sexual assault victims, not just rape victims. And the proposed law stated that even if the evidence of the victim's past was admissible under an exception, the trial judge would have discretion on whether to allow it in.
Still, Deal in 1991 amended the bill to exclude past sexual behavior, according to Senate records. The amended bill was adopted in the state Senate but never passed the House.
Paul Milich, a Georgia State University professor who drafted the changes, said Barnes sat on an evidence panel the Georgia State Bar that reviewed and signed off on the changes.
Barnes acknowledged he sat on the committee but said Monday that at the time the bill was being reviewed he was making his first bid for governor and was not at all the meetings.
"I'm sure I was at some of them," Barnes said of the meetings. "But whether I was there or not is really immaterial. On a lot of these committees there are lot of things discussed."
On the domestic violence front, the Barnes camp unearthed Deal's 1981 vote against a family violence bill that would have given police power to arrest a spouse in their home without a warrant in domestic violence cases. In a Feb. 2, 1981 article in the Gainesville Times, Deal said the measure would place an unreasonable workload on superior court judges while also handing police far-reaching arrest powers. Senate records also show that Deal was the lone no vote against a 1988 domestic violence bill that would have streamlined the process to seek petition seeking relief from family violence. And he was the lone Georgia lawmaker, according to legislative records, to oppose another 1988 bill that would have broadened the definition of family violence.
Deal's camp did not address the votes directly bit instead pointed to his backing, while in Congress, for the U.S. Justice Department Reauthorization Act of 2005 that increased annual funding for a federal law to combat domestic violence from $185 million per year to $225 million per year.
The bill also supported the placement of special victim assistants in law enforcement to serve as liaisons between victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sex assault and stalking as well as law enforcement personnel.