The Palin factor in Georgia

Today is primary day in Georgia. It features a hotly contested run-off on the Republican side of the gubernatorial race between former Secretary of State Karen Handel and former congressman Nathan Deal. Handel received 34 percent of the vote in the initial seven-candidate primary; Deal finished second with 23 percent.
Handel’s excellent showing was propelled by Sarah Palin’s endorsement. The endorsement seemed a bit counter-intuitive to some, since Deal has the support of leaders of the more socially conservative political organizations in the state, such as Georgia Right to Life. Handel favors rape-and-incest exceptions to an abortion ban.
On the other hand, Handel seems better to fit the outsider/conservative reformer model. Deal, who switched from Democrat to Republican after the 1994 election, is a classic insider.
Handel has also received Mitt Romney’s endorsement. However, as a strong pro-life insider, Deal is not without big-time endorsements. He has received the support of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. Thus, four of the top five (or so) possibilities for the Republican nomination in 2012 are invested in this race. Gingrich, I would think, is the most heavily invested, since the primary is taking place in his home state.
The polls, as summarized here, show the race to be pretty even. Georgia-based Insider Advantage, polling on August 5, showed a 46-46 tie. A three-day poll by Mason-Dixon released about the same time showed Handel up 47-42. An even more recent poll by the Republican firm of Landmark Communications has Deal marginally ahead 44-42. Earlier the same outfit had Handel up 46-37.
Polls that show Handel ahead reflect a significant gender-gap. Those in which the two candidates are even show very little. Thus, the female vote (along with regional turnout — Handel’s strength is in Atlanta) may be decisive. This makes the race a good test of the Palin effect.

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