Sarah Palin and GOP women have apparently given Karen Handel the boost she needs to survive on Tuesday — and her male rivals know it.
From a Saturday campaign summary by the Associated Press:
The fireworks were in the GOP race, where a recent poll showed state insurance commissioner John Oxendine, former secretary of state Karen Handel and ex-U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal battling for an expected runoff.
Handel accused Deal of sexism by pointing to a press release from his campaign saying that “real women” support his campaign. Handel said that attacked her own female supporters, including her most prominent backer: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“That just really disappointing,” Handel told The Associated Press.
Asked if the attack was sexist Handel said, “of course it is.”
Deal called the claim “absurd” and said he was simply using campaign branding — the word “real” — he’s adopted since the election began. His campaign slogan is “Deal. Real.”
“That certainly was not meant to impugn anybody,” Deal said.
In fact, Deal has a reason to promote himself as female-friendly.
The Georgia Newspaper Partnership poll out today gives Handel a lead of 29 percent, but that lead zooms to 34 percent among women – an advantage that stands right at the margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percent.
Handel also shows a slightly smaller, but corresponding deficit among male voters.
Deal, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, and former state senator Eric Johnson of Savannah all show a certain amount of leakage in their support from Republican women.
Though the overall percentages in the GOP contest are different, the same trend can be seen in an InsiderAdvantage/Channel 2 Action News poll released on Friday.
The gender gap had already shown itself, but Palin endorsement of Handel last Monday appears to have given it more strength.
One overt sign that Handel intends to play to this gap in a runoff can be found in this mailer sent out by her campaign last week, which details the top four candidates’ positions on abortion.
She lists Oxendine, Deal and Johnson as “pro-life, no exceptions” – which is not entirely accurate. The three men acknowledge exceptions for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother – the position of Georgia Right to Life, which has endorsed them.
Handel, who was not endorsed by GRTL, lists her own position as “pro-life, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.”
As the weekend closed, a rival campaign strategist wondered out loud why Handel would expose herself to charges of being soft on abortion.
But in a female-oriented runoff, it would be interesting to see what polls have to say about the attitude of GOP women on that topic – and what role it might play, should Handel survive Tuesday.