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Winner declared in close GOP runoff for Georgia governor

Former US Rep. Nathan Deal is the GOP nominee for Georgia governor, after 'mama grizzly' Karen Handel concedes. Republican voter turnout was high, indicating an invigorated GOP base.

By Staff writer / August 11, 2010

Georgia gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal tells supporters to wait for more returns to come in before coming to a conclusion during a GOP primary runoff election gathering Tuesday, in Gainesville, Ga.

John Amis/AP



"Mama grizzly" Karen Handel conceded a vitriolic Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary fight Wednesday to former US Rep. Nathan Deal, notching a razor-thin victory for a long-time establishment politician against a self-proclaimed outsider who vowed to take on entrenched party politics in this solidly red Southern state.

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On the national stage, Ms. Handel's loss, after she was catapulted into the frontrunner spot by an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will likely be read as a sign of the limitations of Ms. Palin's "tea party" message – even in some of the most conservative corners of the country. But perhaps the big story in the Handel-Deal runoff was Tuesday's turnout. More than half a million Republicans – nearly quadruple the average turnout for an off-year election – came to polls to vote in temperatures hitting the high 90s.

That number is likely to put Democrats across America on notice that they'll face an invigorated GOP base in the general election on Nov. 2.

"What this election will really tell us is how passionately people care about things locally and nationally, and that's a pretty good snapshot of how those people are going to behave in the general election," says Mary Stuckey, a political scientist at Georgia State University.

Mr. Deal led Handel by a mere 2,500 votes after Tuesday's vote. Their contest had been seen by some analysts as a proxy war for potential presidential candidates who waded into the Georgia battle. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, rode endorsements by Ms. Palin and Mitt Romney into first place in the July primary. But Deal, backed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, closed the distance in the days before Tuesday's runoff.