WASHINGTON, May 4, 2014 — Former Ga. Secretary of State Karen Handel spent much of 2014 trailing the boy’s club that led the Georgia GOP Senate primary. Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah had long dominated the top two slots, each enjoying comfortably full coffers and extensive support within the state’s political network.
But high-profile endorsements from the likes of Sarah Palin, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and Erick Erickson have helped hoist Handel up from the bottom of the totem pole. The latest numbers place her in a statistical tie with Perdue, giving her the slightest of leads over Kingston.
By contrast, Marietta-based Rep. Phil Gingrey has seen his name slip further down the list as the primary date approaches. Though he continues to hover above the race’s conservative firebrand, Rep. Paul Broun, the gap between Gingrey and the front-runners has widened considerably.
Perdue pumped money into ad buys much earlier in the race than the other candidates could afford to. Many speculated that his breakaway lead would shrink once the rest of the field locked up their airtimes around April 5th, when television stations were legally required to begin offering ad space to candidates at the lowest unit rate available.
Indeed, the past month’s barrage of ads has seen the race tighten amongst the top five candidates. Art Gardner, a patent attorney, and Derrick Grayson, a minister, are also running, but neither have the funds to make serious inroads against the group leaders.
Handel’s support likely grew in past weeks after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a video of Perdue making some poorly-worded remarks about her at a January campaign appearance in Bibb County. In the clip, he criticizes Handel for her lack of a college education, saying: “I mean, there’s a high school graduate in this race, OK? I’m sorry, but these issues are so much broader, so complex.”
The backlash from Perdue’s comments forced him to later call Handel and apologize, though his public walk-back was not enough to slake the general outrage that ensued.
In the weeks after the video surfaced, the Handel campaign continued to take shots at Perdue, hitting him on his refusal to release his tax returns.
“David fails to realizethat this is an election, not an auction, and that he has an obligation to the votersof Georgia to be transparent and forthcoming about the millions of dollars he is spending to try to buy this election,” Handel campaign manager Corry Bliss wrote in a press release. “One can only assume that David has a lot to hide since he has changed his mind on releasing his taxes.”
While Kingston has ridden a wave of support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has funneled towering sums into ads touting the 11-term congressman, he seems to have lost his secure second place to the former GOP gubernatorial candidate. Handel’s near-miss in the 2010 Republican primary for the race to the governor’s mansion earned her the extensive name recognition that has kept her competitive this time around. Kingston’s inability to break from the pack stems in part from the presence of two other congressmen in the pack, both of whom have voted in lockstep with each other and with Kingston in an attempt to prevent anyone from getting a leg up.
Handel took a swipe at Kingston’s long tenure in an interview after the primary debate in Savannah. “I am going to go to Washington with guts and resolve to do bold things and solve problems. I’m not interested in being up there for as long as Congressman Kingston or Gingrey or any of those folks,” she said. “I want to go with a sense of urgency to really get this country on a different trajectory.”
Handel has also maintained that she has the best chance of besting likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn in the general election. She recently dared Nunn to ‘drop the war on women bomb’ on her, and has made significant gains among female voters—a group with whom she previously polled poorly.
When asked what she held as the most important issue of her candidacy, Handel responded: “Making sure that we have effective leadership in Washington so that we start solving the very real problems facing this country. It’s going to take a serious candidate, an effective candidate, who has a track record like I do, to have actually delivered real results,” she stated. “We have to have a candidate who can win, because if we don’t win in November, nothing else matters.”
Early voting in the primary has already begun, but the final verdict will be delivered on May 20th.