I'm enjoying a bit a schadenfreude today over Karen Handel's loss in the Georgia senate primary. If anyone's forgotten, she was the VP at the Susan G Komen breast cancer foundation viewed as most responsible for the Planned Parenthood defunding debacle. It was a prime example of conservative wishful thinking running up against reality, where they cooked up some cockamamie messaging to explain the decision and then were totally gobsmacked when absolutely no one bought it. They stuck to their guns for all of three days before reversing themselves, Handel was forced to resign, and the foundation she represented was dealt a blow from which it'll likely never fully recover. She refused a severance package in favor of writing the book "Planned Bullyhood," a self-serving pile painting herself as a totally innocent victim of circumstances and malicious characters — "bullying at the height of bullyism." She feels bullied.
Anyhow, incumbent senator Saxby Chambliss (awesome name) isn't running for reelection, so a ton of candidates jumped into the fray for the Republican primary. The frontrunner's one of those rich business guys that makes a shitload of money and then decides to step directly into national office, and he's already put millions of his own dough into getting elected. He was never projected to get more than 50% of the vote, so Handel's been in a knockdown brawl this whole time to be one of the top two candidates going to a runoff election in July. She and Jack Kingston, an 11-term state congressman, were polling neck and neck in the weeks prior, but he came up with 26% of the vote to her 22.
She ran a tough race, but more than anything else, she was undone by her total inability to raise funds. They said that over eight million dollars were spent on television advertising in the six weeks running up to the election, of which Handel's campaign accounted for $19,000. Interestingly, they also say that the roots of this problem may lie in her failed run for governor in 2010.
Her hardball runoff campaign against now Gov. Nathan Deal left many Deal supporters with a bitter taste in their mouths and the acerbic tone and tactics she employed haven't been forgotten by the governor's confidantes. That strained relationship has hamstrung Handel's fundraising efforts, insist sources on the ground there.
"Don't piss off Nathan Deal. I think he's dried up the money. I think he makes calls. I think he wields a big stick down here. I think his political operatives are vindictive. Probably not publicly, but I think they would work against her in a runoff. I think they'd be aggressive," says the Washington-based source who has been in the state.
The Atlanta-based GOPer adds, "Team Deal really doesn't like Karen. If she makes the runoff, I expect Gov. Deal will publicly engage for the opponent."
Handel got endorsements from such luminaries as Sarah Palin and Erick Erickson, but no actual money, and the national Tea Party groups didn't send any cash either – part of the Republican establishment's big triumph over insurgent candidates. She sold herself as the perfect trump card against any "war on women" attacks from the left, because I guess restricting access to abortion or contraceptive coverage is okay if a lady does it. Komen's board being almost entirely female didn't seem to protect them any, but whatever. I doubt that she'd call herself a feminist, but she has been pretty quick to label criticism of her as sexist.
Perdue, a wealthy former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, has endured weeks of attacks from Handel that he's an "elitist" and a liberal masquerading as a conservative.
So, when he was asked about Handel during an interview here in Northern Georgia aboard his spacious campaign RV, he had this to say: "She ran five times for five different races, got elected twice, didn't finish either term." Perdue was referring to Handel leaving the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to run for secretary of state, then cutting that term short to seek the governorship in 2010. "I just believe that defines self-interest over the interests in serving the constituents."
Handel seethed at those comments. "Would we be having this conversation if I were a man?" she said. "I would argue not."
I read an article in Slate a few days ago about a study showing that "for conservatives, the paper's authors found, how feminine a female candidate appears correlates to how likely she is to win an election. Interestingly, this correlation doesn't hold for liberals." Handel's not bad looking, but never a member of the beauty queen wing of the party, and I wonder how much that may have hurt her chances. I'm sure she'll be back, though her future as a candidate may be limited. The multiple failed campaigns don't look so good, but a rep for being completely unable to raise money for yourself is the real killer. She worked her ass off and did better than anyone expected, but just couldn't make up such a handicap in the war chest. Handel's kind of an interesting character – I hate her smugness and insincerity, and she's a liar and an opportunist, but I can at least respect her as a bare-knuckled political brawler that leaves a trail of fire behind. Glad to see her lose.