For all the conclusions of the national punditocracy that both contenders in the razor-thin Republican run-off for governor of Georgia Tuesday were conservatives, discussions HUMAN EVENTS had with grass-roots conservative activists in the Peach State reveals something quite different: that Nathan Deal, who eventually won by less than 1% of the vote, was a solid movement conservative and runner-up Karen Handel—endorsed by Sarah Palin—was closely tied to the more moderate GOP establishment.
Stalwart conservative Rep. Jack Kingston was spot-on when, as HUMAN EVENTS reported Wednesday, he said: “Karen Handel is a very decent candidate, but she’s clearly the more moderate person in the race.”
Kingston also took a not-so-subtle swipe at Sarah Palin for backing the former Georgia secretary of state, telling talk-show hosts John McCaslin and Amy Holmes: “Why Sarah Palin decided to get in the race is beyond me. I don’t know why she feels compelled to get into the primaries all over the country, but fortunately Georgia voters are doing their own thinking on things like this.”
Other Georgia conservative activists agreed. As former Republican National Committeewoman Carolyn Meadows told HUMAN EVENTS shortly after Handel conceded yesterday, “Nathan Deal was the ‘real Deal’ when it came to social conservatism and was clearly the candidate of the grass-roots and not the ‘establishment.’ The same could not be said of Karen Handel.” Along with her decades of toiling for conservative candidates and causes, Meadows serves on the board of the American Conservative Union and the National Rifle Association.
Where Deal opposed abortion under any circumstances except to save the life of a mother, Handel said she backed that exception as well as cases of rape and incest. Georgia Right to Life strongly endorsed Deal, as did Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
But abortion was not the only issue raising doubts about Handel on the right. As chairman of the Fulton County (Atlanta) Commission, Handel had friendly relations with the Log Cabin Republicans and her campaign statement that she would consider banning gay adoption appeared at odds with earlier exchanges she had with the GOP gay group.
In terms of state Republican politics, many conservatives never fully trusted Handel because of her financial support from the more moderate GOP “establishment” in Georgia. Fred Cooper of the Flowers Corporation and Republican National Committeeman Alex Poitevant were both firmly in her camp which convinced many on the right that Handel, as governor, would be their enemy when it came to party matters.
“Karen had worked as a top aide to [lame duck GOP Gov.] Sonny Perdue, who has never been close to grass-roots conservatives,” said one party activist who requested anonymity. “There was a fear that if she was elected, it would be a third term for Sonny.”
Newt Gingrich and the American Conservative Union’s political action committee obviously knew the lay of the political landscape in Georgia and supported Deal over Handel. Sarah Palin, it appears, did not.