Palin, Handel, Huckabee, and Deal

A brief primer on the Georgia primary runoff

A quick scan of the blogosphere and you might think Sarah Palin was running against Mike Huckabee in today’s Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary runoff (that’s a mouthful). A quick scan of some of the local coverage and you could leave with much the same impression. But Georgia’s runoff is not actually a contest between Fox News personalities current and past. In the real battle eating up the peach state, former secretary of state Karen Handel is fending off a last-minute surge from former Rep. Nathan Deal.

The big news though—much as it has been in the Bill vs. Barack Democratic Primary for Senate in Colorado—has been Palin’s support for “momma grizzly” Handel, and Huckabee’s and Newt Gengrich’s endorsement of Deal. Politico has gone so far as to call it the “proxy war in Georgia.” Reporter Alexander Burns writes: “the contest between former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and former Rep. Nathan Deal has quickly become a test of the GOP’s potential 2012 contenders and the power of their endorsements.”

In a sharp piece at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published Sunday, Aaron Gould Shenin leads with the endorsements but talks with “political experts” in an attempt to gauge the potential impact of big-name backers on a local race; one where people need to be moved to come out to the polls a second time. While some argued that Palin could galvanize such a movement, Shenin includes a poll that would suggest otherwise (and caution the press against running to far in front with the Palin/Huckabee meme):

But a new poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Newspaper Partnership shows few voters said endorsements drove their choice of candidate. When those polled by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research were asked the most important reason they were supporting a candidate, only 9 percent of Handel supporters and 8 percent of Deal supporters said it was because of endorsements from other leaders.

The poll, released Sunday, showed Handel leading Deal 47 percent to 42 percent.

Later, Shenin alludes to another factor particular to the Georgia race:

As with much in politics, however, there is another side to the story. This will be the fourth election in the 9th district in the past few months. A special primary election was held in May after Deal resigned his seat. A runoff followed a few weeks later. Then, there was the regular primary in July followed by Tuesday’s runoff.

“The problem I’d be concerned about if I was a Deal advisor is that maybe those voters in the 9th district are feeling voter fatigue,” Bullock said. “Some of them may just have had enough voting.”

Will voter fatigue kick in? Will Palin or Huckabee, we mean Handel or Deal, prevail? And just who shot J.R.? Find out today, with continuous blogging at the Journal-Constitution.

Correction: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Handel and Deal were contesting the Senate primary.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.