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Georgia governor primary: Has Sarah Palin left GOP in disarray?

Sarah Palin endorsed Karen Handel in Tuesday's runoff in the Republican primary for Georgia governor. Palin and her fellow 'mama grizzly' have taken aim at the state's GOP establishment.

By Staff writer / August 10, 2010

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during a rally for Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel Monday. Ms. Handel faces Nathan Deal in a runoff Tuesday for the Republican nomination.

John Bazemore/AP



Sarah Palin's endorsement of Karen Handel in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary runoff Tuesday could provide a cautionary lesson for a the GOP: A mama grizzly protects its cubs without much concern for the damage it's causing.

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Ms. Handel has made good use of her induction as one of Ms. Palin's "mama grizzlies." Palin has helped Handel cement her image as an outsider campaigning to slash state spending and combat corruption. Polls have her neck and neck with former Rep. Nathan Deal, a state GOP stalwart.

On one hand, Palin is dramatically affecting the course of conservative women in politics, mixing a new vision of feminism with the insurgent ethic of the "tea party" – unafraid to take on the political establishment on both the right and left.

Yet Handel's Palin-approved "Bring it on!" campaign against the GOP establishment also threatens to expose fissures in the party – most particularly between Palin and possible presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who both appear to be carrying out a national proxy war through their endorsements. Mr. Huckabee has backed Mr. Deal in today's primary.

Palin and her endorsement are not the cause of the race's take-no-prisoners nature, says Mary Stuckey, a political scientist at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "But she's an indicator of how people feel about things," she says. "She's more a symptom than a cause, but I think she's a symptom of something real."

Palin's record as queenmaker

Waving her trademark populist, partisan, and patriotic banner, Palin has become an adept and influential endorser. So far this primary season, five of her six gubernatorial endorsees have won their primaries. Her support of Handel shortly before the June primary boosted her into first place and allowed her to raise nearly as much campaign cash as the well-connected Deal.

"Where I think Palin's effect is phenomenal is on the status of women in politics," says Janis Edwards, a University of Alabama communications professor who contributed an essay on Palin to the recently published book, "Identity Politics." [People] have to pay attention to this and acknowledge the extent to which women's progress in politics has been tied to the liberal feminist view, and where Palin's impact is now on capturing and appropriating feminist arguments … that skews the view of women in politics in a different direction."