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Greg Bluestein

Sarah Palin boosts Handel and knocks Perdue with visit

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Former VP contender Sarah Palin made a surprise appearance at an event for Senate candidate Karen Handel. (Bob Andres/AJC)

Former VP contender Sarah Palin made an appearance at an event for Senate candidate Karen Handel. (Bob Andres/AJC)

Sarah Palin swept into Atlanta Thursday to boost the fortunes of the only female Republican in the race for the open Senate seat – and knock a rival who snubbed her lack of a college education.

The former vice presidential candidate pronounced herself “disappointed” by the David Perdue comments that came to light yesterday, and declared it a “sad day” for Republican politics. She said Ronald Reagan faced the same sort of pushback that Karen Handel now faces when he left his acting career to enter politics.

Of Handel, she said, “nothing was handed to her on a silver platter.” She later added: “There are a lot of good, hard-working Americans who have more common sense in their pinky finger than a lot of those Ivy League pieces of paper up on a wall.”  (View photos from today’s event)

Palin was responding to the recent discovery of video we posted yesterday. In the clip, filmed in January, Perdue panned Handel as the “high school graduate in this race.”

Those comments have led to an outpouring of support from tea party groups and others upset by the apparent dig. They are viewed as a game-changer by Handel’s campaign, which lags in fundraising and trails in the polls. And it signals increased scrutiny for Perdue as he rises in recent polls.

Handel left a broken home at 17, finished high school and went to work but never finished college. Her education came up during her 2010 campaign for governor, when there was talk about whether she only earned a GED, which Handel vehemently disputed.

Perdue, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Georgia Tech, was trying to emphasize his business background and worldly experience in a contest against Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state, and three sitting congressmen. Here’s what he said:

“I mean, there’s a high school graduate in this race, OK? I’m sorry, but these issues are so much broader, so complex. There’s only one candidate in this race that’s ever lived outside the United States. How can you bring value to a debate about the economy unless you have any understanding about the free enterprise system and how — what it takes to compete in the global economy?”

Perdue’s campaign said in a statement Thursday that he was raised by two public school teachers and worked his way through college by moonlighting with construction and warehouse jobs.

“Like most Americans, nothing was handed to him on a silver platter,” the campaign said.

Handel, for her part, tried to strike a contrast with Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive who lives in a gated community off Georgia’s coast.

“Some in this race think the problems in Washington are a little too complex for a gal like me,” said Handel, to loud applause. “I’m here to tell you that solving the problems in Washington is going to take guts and resolve.”

“I walk in the shoes of average Georgians,” she said.

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