This week’s Courier Herald Column:
As Georgia media outlets were breaking the news that Jack Kingston was moving his “unofficial” candidacy for the US Senate into a formal and official campaign last week, Karen Handel was sending out an email reminding Georgia voters that she too is officially an unofficial candidate. In the note, she said the following:
“What we need is clear: a proven reformer that brings new perspective, someone who isn’t afraid to ‘shake things up,’ and a fighter that stays true to conservative values no matter the political cost.”
While those words may seem like generic campaign speak, you can expect a Handel for Senate campaign to emphasize those last words – true to conservative values no matter the political cost – a bit. And, as has been her signature, expect the campaign to work outside some of the expected conventional norms.
Both of these concepts have been visible during the last two weeks as Handel has enjoyed the relative anonymity of remaining in pre-campaign mode. While the now announced three members of Congress worked as many of the state’s 14 GOP district conventions that logistics would allow, Handel was boarding an airplane to fly to…Oregon.
Most potential candidates wouldn’t miss the opportunity to shake the hands of a few hundred of the most partisan activists gathered in one place, Handel had a speaking engagement three time zones away – to Oregon Right to Life. A few days later, she was in…New Jersey. She shared a stage with Georgia’s 2008 Presidential Primary winner Mike Huckabee at New Jersey Right to Life’s banquet dinner where she and he were the keynote speaker tandem.
She has an engagement with Wisconsin Right to Life on her calendar, and will be featured at the Susan B Anthony List’s Southeastern Regional Campaign for Life event in Atlanta in a couple of weeks. In addition, National Review tapped Handel for an Op-Ed regarding Planned Parenthood and their ability to use taxpayer money to lobby for more taxpayer money for the organization – one which she gained firsthand knowledge of their tactics during her tenure with the Susan G Komen Foundation.
That time between the governor’s race and now led to her book, Planned Bullyhood, and has given her the opportunity to speak about the current state of the pro-life movement – and it’s fierce and well organized opposition – to groups around the country. She’s been able to not only demonstrate true pro-life credentials, but demonstrate tangible actions – and personal costs – for the cause.
Back at home, there is still the matter of Handel, the 2010 Governor’s race, and Georgia Right to Life. During that campaign, Handel’s pro-life credentials were openly derided by the organization with special emphasis given to the fact that she was the only candidate for governor not endorsed by the organization.
Now almost 4 years later, Handel is clearly welcome as a leader of the pro-life movement across the country. The one who was criticized by GRTL as being too liberal and “pro-choice” has become a national pro-life figure. Meanwhile, GRTL has devolved into a public spat with Georgia’s House Speaker over their inability to move their own legislation. It remains to be seen how the Georgia organization plans to handle Handel this time around, given that she seems to have a superior record of accomplishment and national acceptance on the issue.
And yet, much like the way she worked around an entrenched establishment to go directly to the voters in a 2010 race where most experts wrote her off – only to have her come within roughly 2,500 votes of the nomination – Handel’s actions may have largely made GRTL’s stance on her candidacy irrelevant.
For GRTL to pick the same battle over her potential candidacy again would be to declare that the other state chapters and the National Right To Life organization are flawed. The dual keynote with Mike Huckabee makes the gymnastics a bit harder for GRTL, as he was the unquestioned favorite for Georgia’s social conservatives in 2008.
Handel, should she decide to undertake another state wide run will clearly have to develop her own message and strategy to deal with not only this, but other issues that will be of interest to Georgia’s Republican primary voters. With regard to waiting for Georgia Right to Life to define her again, Handel has set her own stage.
She does not need to wait to see if they choose to endorse or not. Rather, she has earned and exhibited her pro-life credentials and taken them directly to the voters. It is now more of an academic observation for the inside baseball political class to see if Georgia Right to Life chooses to ratify what is self-evident, or if they will choose another showdown. Given that they almost lost a Governor’s race to the only candidate they didn’t endorse 3 years ago, it would seem that it is their organization, rather than Handel, that may have more at stake with regards to the political side of this issue.