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Greg Bluestein

Karen Handel to endorse Jack Kingston in Georgia Senate race

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Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel said late Tuesday she will endorse Rep. Jack Kingston’s Senate bid.

Handel’s endorsement will come at a Kingston event at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The Savannah Republican hopes that the tea party forces that helped Handel finish third in last week’s runoff could shift their allegiances to his camp.

Kingston faces businessman David Perdue, the top vote-getter in the GOP primary, in a July 22 runoff that will be the longest - and likely costliest – in state history.

Handel’s endorsement should come as little surprise to close watchers of this rollicking race.  Handel and Perdue got into a very public tiff after the former Fortune 500 executive knocked Handel as the “high school graduate in this race.” Handel, who left a broken home at 17 and finished high school but never college, used it to try to depict Perdue as the  candidate who has “lost touch with our values.”

We’re also told that Perdue’s primary night victory speech did him no favors. In that speech, he told cheering supporters that “we retired three career politicians and we’ve got one more to go.” Handel staked her campaign on being an outsider, so being labeled a politico one last time by the night’s victor was like rubbing salt in the wound.

Handel’s role in Kingston’s campaign isn’t yet determined, but we can expect her to focus her firepower on her metro Atlanta base – the former Fulton County commission chair has a considerable following in the region’s suburbs – and to make the party’s case to conservative women who may otherwise be tempted to vote for Democrat Michelle Nunn.

It’s Kingston’s latest move in an interesting balancing act between claiming establishment credentials and courting tea party support.

Kingston won the endorsement of the establishment-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, a favorite of the tea party crowd, before the primary. And since last week’s results, tea party stalwarts Erick Erickson and Julianne Thompson have both left Handel’s fold for Kingston’s camp. Perdue, meanwhile, has big names such as former presidential contender Herman Cain and former Gov. Sonny Perdue, his first cousin, in his corner.

The contours of this race are shifting fast, but this much is clear:

There’s a new rule in Georgia politics – if your opponent has only a high school diploma, be very, very polite.

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