ATLANTA — Two Georgia Republicans who wielded dueling endorsements from Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich will face a showdown in a GOP runoff for governor, while a Democrat who served a single term as governor won his party's nomination for a comeback bid.
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel will face former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal in an Aug. 10 runoff for the Republican nomination. With 83 percent of precincts reporting from Tuesday's primary, unofficial returns showed Handel had 33 percent of the vote to Deal's 24 percent.
Palin's nod helped Handel surge to the top of the polls in recent days, while Deal had an endorsement from Gingrich.
In Georgia, a runoff is required if none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
On the Democratic side, former Gov. Roy Barnes won his party's nomination for governor, avoiding a runoff by trouncing six opponents in the first electoral test of his comeback bid. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial returns showed him with 65 percent of the vote. Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who was seeking to become Georgia's first black governor, was a distant second with 22 percent. The other five Democrats in the race were far behind in the single digits.
Barnes was ousted in 2002 by Republican Sonny Perdue, his defeat fueled by teachers angry with his education reforms and others upset over his successful push to remove the Confederate battle symbol from the state's flag. He ran a folksy but focused primary campaign attacking ruling Republicans in the state for neglecting big problems, like education and transportation, amid the crippling recession.
Palin's endorsement of Handel – the lone woman in the race who could become the state's first female governor – swiftly transformed the dynamic in the GOP primary. Handel had been attacked throughout the campaign as too liberal. Palin's backing – she called the former secretary of state a "pro-life, pro-Constitutionalist with a can-do attitude" – was seen as a conservative seal of approval. Handel had the lead in a new poll released Sunday.
Handel is just one of several candidates around the country recently endorsed by Palin, John McCain's running mate during the 2008 presidential campaign. Palin is largely credited with helping South Carolina Rep. Nikki Haley, once little-known in her state, surge to popularity and ultimately a runoff win for the GOP nomination for governor.
The day after Palin posted her Handel endorsement on Facebook and Twitter, Gingrich threw his support behind Deal.
Seven Democrats and seven Republicans were vying for the open seat. Perdue is prevented by term limits from running again after two terms.
Meanwhile, Georgia Democratic primary voters selected Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who had no GOP opponent in his bid for a second term and has $5 million on hand for his campaign.
In north Georgia, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves faces yet another runoff after winning a special election runoff in June for the seat once held by Deal. Deal left Congress to run for governor, and now Graves is seeking a full two-year term.
His runoff opponent will be former state Sen. Lee Hawkins, whom he defeated in June's runoff. Unofficial returns from 99 percent of the precincts showed Graves with 49 percent of the vote and Hawkins with 27 percent. There were five Republicans in the race.
Three Democratic congressmen who faced opposition in the primary – U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, David Scott and John Barrow – won their races Tuesday.
In a runoff race to replace Republican Rep. John Linder, who is retiring after nine terms, Linder's former chief of staff, Rob Woodall, will face Jody Hice, a minister from Bethlehem.