Republicans begin to rally behind Karen Handel in Georgia runoff

Republican Karen Handel. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

After months of vicious infighting, Georgia Republicans began to rally around Karen Handel on Wednesday as she prepared for a June 20 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, was pummeled by attacks from GOP rivals who cast her as a closet liberal who compromised too much with Democrats while she chaired Fulton County’s commission.

Bob Gray, a former Johns Creek Councilman, was one of her fiercest critics. His campaign falsely claimed that Handel had dropped out of the race and endorsed him, and distributed a digital ad that super-imposed Handel’s head next to a wind-surfing John Kerry.

Gray tweeted late Tuesday that he is going to “rally behind” Handel. “We wish her Godspeed,” he added.

Other former rivals also quickly backed her campaign. David Abroms, who ran as an consensus-building conservative, said he was certain she would be an “independent conservative voice” in Congress. And House Speaker David Ralston, one of the state’s top GOP leaders, urged other Republicans to “join with me and engage in an aggressive way” to support Handel.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who defeated her in a bitter 2010 runoff and stayed out of the Congressional race, signaled his support for her in a tweet. And U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson urged Republicans to retain the seat he once held.

“Karen Handel embodies true conservative values and will be an absolute asset to our party and our state in Congress,” he said. “I’ve known Karen for many years, and I’m proud to give her my strongest support.”

There is much more fence-building to do. Handel waged two unsuccessful statewide campaigns – for governor in 2010 and an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014 – and ruffled feathers along the way. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sen. David Perdue each backed other GOP candidates. And other prominent Republicans in her North Fulton County turf publicly backed Moody in the closing days of the campaign, including Jan Jones – the No. 2 Republican in the Georgia House.

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, Perdue called on Republicans to rally against Ossoff – but did not mention Handel by name.

Read more: Georgia special election heads to runoff

More: In final week, Karen Handel becomes top target of rivals


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