Matt Towery

The Sarah Palin Express may be gaining even more steam, at least within the Republican Party. Another of her "Mama Grizzlies," Georgia's former secretary of state Karen Handel, on July 20 emerged from obscurity in the polls to take the most votes in the GOP general primary election for governor.

The feisty Handle now heads to an Aug. 10 runoff. She will face the more laid-back Nathan Deal, a former congressman who served many years in Washington. Deal switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican after the 1994 election, when Georgia's Newt Gingrich engineered his "Republican Revolution" that took control of the House.

Deal has enjoyed the support of leaders of the more socially conservative political organizations in the state, such as Georgia Right to Life. He and Handel have traded accusations, especially over abortion. Each claims the other is more "pro-abortion," and Handel has been painted as being "pro gay rights."

But the mood in the ninth-most-populous state has little to do with social issues, as it might have during better economic times. Georgia ballooned in population and prosperity especially from the late 1990s until the Great Recession struck. Voters now understandably appear to be preoccupied with jobs and personal economic security.

Handel was chair of Fulton County, home to Atlanta, before getting elected as secretary of state in 2006. She has a stellar Republican resume.

Possible strikes against her and her candidacy are that she has been hit with an ethics complaint and that she never got the opportunity to earn a college degree. The latter is usually a deal-breaker in many states for aspiring statewide officeholders.

But during the primary campaign, Handel was on the receiving end of something stronger than a sheepskin from the most prestigious college. None other than Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the reigning queen of the Republican Party, entered on her personal Facebook page an endorsement of Handel a week or so before Election Day in Georgia.

This wasn't the first time Palin cast her blessing on a female candidate in a quirky way. In a race elsewhere that shall go unnamed, the woman who enjoyed an "endorsement" never got a verbal boost at all from Palin. Instead, the woman's campaign opened an envelope and found inside a substantial check from Palin's political action committee. The candidate simply interpreted the money as an endorsement, and Palin never said otherwise.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery