Palin, Huckabee Square Off in Proxy GOP Battle for Georgia Governor
By: David A. Patten
Two top Republicans — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — are locked in a hard-fought proxy battle to determine which oft-mentioned 2012 GOP front-runner can propel their candidate into the November general election for Georgia governor.
Palin is sparing no effort to boost former Secretary of State Karen Handel over the top in the Georgia primary runoff contest against former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal. Huckabee, meanwhile, has endorsed and campaigned energetically for Deal.
Palin's appearance Monday at a jampacked InterContinental Hotel Buckhead ballroom in Atlanta in the critical waning hours of the campaign injected late momentum into Handel's campaign.
The excitement was palpable Monday as Palin and Handel took the stage together. The crowd chanted "Bring it on! Bring it on!" as the two took the stage, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Palin immediately confronted the accusation that she's promoting Handel's candidacy because she is a woman.
"Now that is just so stupid and just so passe," Palin told the cheering crowd. "Yes, she's a sista. [But] we're endorsing Karen because she is the best candidate for Georgia."
In addition to Palin's hitting the campaign trail for Handel, Huckabee campaigned on Sunday for Deal in Gainesville. About 800 Deal supporters turned out to hear the politician-turned-Fox News host speak on Deal's behalf.
"There is no one who has been standing taller for things that matter to us than Nathan Deal," Huckabee said, according to the Gainesville Times.
The hard-fought race for the gubernatorial nomination could hinge on how many votes Palin can swing during her 11th-hour appearance. Alpharetta resident Joan Towles was clutching Palin's "Going Rogue" book as the former governor fired up the crowd.
“I know more about Sarah Palin than I do Karen Handel,” Towles told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I believe in Sarah Palin’s message.”
Palin told the crowd she does see parallels between Handel's political career and her own. "She's been underestimated all her life, too," Palin said. "I know that being a reformer and rocking some boats isn't easy."
Palin has racked up a string of successful primary endorsements, including races in the key primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. Her endorsement of Handel already is credited with helping her to a first-place finish in Georgia's July GOP gubernatorial primary. Handel carried 34 percent of the vote, with Deal garnering 23 percent, but that was enough of a split to force Tuesday's runoff.
If elected, Handel would become the Peach State's first female governor. A Mason-Dixon poll released on Sunday shows her holding on to a 47 to 42 percent edge over Deal, with 11 percent of GOP voters still undecided.
In some ways the bruising battle between Deal and Handel has become a proxy contest between two oft-mentioned prospects for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
Handel has been campaigning against what she has called Georgia's "good old boys" network. She has been criticized by right-to-life groups in Georgia for her position that, although abortion is wrong, it should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. She also has been slammed for not having a college degree.
Deal, on the other hand, has been weighed down by ethical allegations. According to the Office of Congressional Ethics, Deal used his office to benefit his vehicle-inspection business.
“I don’t think I have done anything that stepped over the line," Deal said at the time.
Palin fans in Georgia aren't the only ones excited about her campaign swing. Democrats believe they can use her presence to raise money. Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Jane Kidd criticized Palin's campaign stop.
"You may not have heard, but half-term governor, Fox News personality and tea partier Sarah Palin is in Georgia today.
"Republicans see the writing on the wall: Georgia is going to elect Roy Barnes for Governor this November, and Republicans are pulling out all their tricks to prevent our victory.
"Why is Palin fighting so hard in our state? Because the Democratic Party registered over 200,000 new voters in 2008."
The winner of Tuesday's Handel-Deal matchup will face a tough contest in November, but it's one Georgia Republicans are confident they can win. A July Rasmussen poll found that both Handel and Deal hold a narrow lead over Democrat Roy Barnes, a former governor who easily captured the Democratic nomination. Handel leads Barnes 45 percent to 44 percent. Deal leads Barnes 49 percent to 43 percent.