Former Secretary of State Karen Handel on Wednesday entered the wide-open race to succeed Rep. Tom Price with hopes that her high name recognition and deep Fulton County roots can help her win the coveted seat.
She joined a crowded field for the April 18 vote by announcing the endorsements of local GOP leaders, including former state party chair Sue Everhart and Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall. A June 20 runoff between the top two vote-getters is all but guaranteed.
“It’s time to deliver on the promises made of cutting spending, repealing Obamacare and reducing regulations,” she said, adding: “I have a record of standing up and fighting the status quo to get things done and I will take that fight to Washington.”
A one-time aide to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, Handel chaired the Fulton County Commission in the early 2000s before she was elected secretary of state in 2006 – the first Republican to win that role in state history.
She soon set her sights on higher office, but her political career was twice derailed. Her 2010 gubernatorial bid ended in a narrow runoff defeat to Nathan Deal, a bitter rival, and she finished in third-place in the 2014 GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat.
In between, she became a darling to religious conservatives when she resigned from a leadership role in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation in 2012 after it reversed its decision to cut ties with the abortion rights Planned Parenthood group. Her book about the episode was called “Planned Bullyhood,” and it gave her a national profile.
About a half-dozen Republicans are already in the running for the district, a conservative-leaning stretch spanning from east Cobb to north DeKalb that should be the GOP’s to lose. But President Donald Trump looms large over the contest, and the race could become an early test for his popularity in an establishment-friendly territory.
Trump lost the district in Georgia’s March primary and eked out a 1-point victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in November. Price, who was confirmed last week as Trump’s health secretary, won re-election by a more convincing 62 percent of the vote.
She’ll face several former lawmakers and self-styled outsiders.
Former state Sen. Judson Hill has been campaigning for weeks, and resigned his Marietta-based seat on Monday when he formally qualified for the race. Former state Sen. Dan Moody said Monday he was joining the race with the help of the powerful Perdue family network, and Trump diversity coalition head Bruce LeVell entered on Tuesday.
Price’s wife, state Rep. Betty Price, has also said she could enter the race. The three-day qualifying ends Wednesday.
But Democrats hope to unify behind a contender and land a spot in the runoff. Two former Democratic state legislators are in the race, as well as an ex-Congressional aide who has the endorsement of top party leaders.
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