A Note About My Friend Karen Handel

The morning after an election is a weird time for all of us.  Campaigns that seemed to have lasted forever have come to a sudden end.  Some in victory.  Others, a swift and final stop.  A few more must re-invent themselves for another nine week sprint.  Those who worked on the ones that fell short will go through their own process that is very much one of grieving.  It’s hard to do when others around you are either celebrating or immediately getting back to work.  For those moving on, grass can’t grow under the feet.  For those who are not, there are questions of what to even do today.  And tomorrow.

One of those campaigns that will not be moving forward is that of Karen Handel, and that’s we’re I’ll begin my post-election thoughts.  I had met Karen a few times over the years, but I really “met” her in the sense of more than grip and grins at functions a bit over four years ago, well into the Governor’s race.  I wasn’t an instant supporter but over time she became my candidate.  Four years ago, her campaign fell short by roughly 2500 votes.  For her and those around her, it hurt.

One of my personal axioms of politics is that you never really know a politician until they lose a race.  When you meet someone while they are running for office, you never know if you’re getting to know the real person, or if they are trying to be the person they think you want them to be.  After a loss, there’s no reason for the pretense.  Many who lose I never hear from again, or only rarely and usually out of political convenience.  Not Karen.

Karen and her husband Steve stayed close, and we became friends.  In the political sphere, I don’t use that “f” word lightly.  But above all else, whatever you know of Karen Handel as a politician, I hope you’ll know that Karen and Steve are good people.  Many of the anecdotes I could use to demonstrate that are personal and will remain that way.  It’s just something I’ll say is true, because it is.

Over the last four years I’ve had a front row seat to an amazing journey that they have been on.  I was there when Karen first started working with Komen.  I know why she was hired and much of what happened while she was there.  She didn’t take that job to make her more politically relevant.  Sometimes life just ….works out in weird ways.

I know how Karen has treated her friends and those that supported her during this time.  Even last night in defeat I’m told that she spent her time making sure that the members of her team were OK, and that things were going to be OK.

Four years ago we got the moniker of being “Handel Pundit”.  We still sometimes joke about that, but also made a conscious effort to try and play this election cycle straight.  It’s something I discussed early with Karen and Steve, and it limited the amount of help I could provide.  I’m not arrogant in thinking I could have closed the gap, but I’ll have my own questions going forward if I could have done more to help my friends.

Y’all know Karen’s background, and her entire resume says “survivor”.  We’re going to hurt together and separately for a while after this loss.  That’s natural for anyone who enters this arena and those who support them.  Yet the Karen and Steve that I have come to know and truly appreciate will find a path forward, and they will do more than just survive.  They’ll thrive.

I have no idea what paths they will chose to take going forward.  They likely don’t either.  They were all in on this one, and now they’re going to have to take some time and figure it out.  But good people do, and good people have friends that will help them along the way.  I’m not happy with the way this one ended.  Not at all.  But I am happy that I’ve come to know Karen and Steve as my friends.

While the path is uncertain, there will be new challenges ahead, and opportunities that present themselves.  And when they do, I’m sure there will be a strong and audible voice that greets them with “Bring it on”.


  1. Dave Bearse says:

    “…more than grip and grins” a great phrase.

    I certainly haven’t supported Handel, but I’ve never thought that pot shots at PP about you or other front-pagers supporting her merited much response. I think the transparency here adequate.

    FWIW, I think early polling that Handel would have been the hardest candidate for Nunn was right.

  2. Spacey G says:

    I’d have liked to have seen a Nunn v. Handel race too. Had the potential to be the most exciting thing in Georgia politics since Billy Beer. *sigh*

  3. DrGonzo says:

    I won’t be supporting either of these candidates in November, regardless of who wins the runoff. I won’t vote for Nunn either, so I’ll be staying home. Tired of having my choices decided for me by the deep pockets of the Chamber of Commerce.

  4. analogkid says:

    While I’m sure I’ll eventually be sad not to have Karen Handel to kick around anymore, I’m not dancing on her grave. She ran a really good campaign (at least in terms of results), especially given her lack of money. Had Tom Price run for Senate, and Handel run for Price’s seat, she’d be packing her bags for DC today.

    The decision to run for Senate was a crap shoot at best for any candidate, even sitting congressmen in safe seats (hence why Price didn’t run, I assume), and she landed just short of a runoff. Nothing to be ashamed of.

  5. northside101 says:

    Karen’s campaign could be compared to the Germans approaching the outskirts of Moscow in 1941, only to fall short and never get that close again. The 2,519 votes (her loss margin to Deal in 2010) she wishes she could have made up. This time, running for Senate, was not nearly as close. I sensed a sense of desperation when I got robocalls supporting her from Palin and Santorum (neither figures particularly popular among more moderate Fulton GOP voters). Some ad paid for by a third party noted she had balanced a budget (as if counties really have that option) and had “stood up” to Obama (whatever that means). Not much to go on. Pretty evident looking at the returns that Perdue ate into her base in metro Atlanta, even in Fulton County. She ended up with about 100,000 fewer votes than in 2010…maybe though Tom Price someday will go statewide and she can run for that.

  6. saltycracker says:

    Nice post – my first impressions of Karen years ago were that she was on the strings of inside puppet masters and we never got to see the real person. This is a time of first impressions and decisions with half truths. Can’t fix that but can keep an open mind, temper a rush to judgement and avoid being caustic. In hindsight, she might be a nice person but still couldn’t pull the lever for her.

  7. gcp says:

    One more failed race and Handel matches Guy Milner and his three failed attempts; the only difference is Handel doesn’t have Milner’s money. As for the power of endorsements, well if you vote based on an endorsement you shouldn’t be voting anyway.

    • DrGonzo says:

      “One more failed race and Handel matches Guy Milner and his three failed attempts…”

      Perhaps, but Guy Milner never won an election, even for dogcatcher. Karen Handel was elected in the largest county in the state and statewide before 2010 and this years loss. Without the aide of Guy Milner’s money.

      • gcp says:

        I guess Handel will now return to her previous occupation; does anyone know what her occupation is?

          • xdog says:

            Easy does it, DrG. Classy is as classy does. I didn’t intend any barb. I could have said ‘lobbyist’ or ‘consultant’ but SBO is the default occupation for conservative gopers, right? For one, Donna Sheldon claimed to be an SBO but I was never able to find out what it was. If you find out please share.

  8. IMO classic example of someone who rose to a higher station in life than they “should” have and didn’t know when to say when. She could still be SOS – gearing up for a potential Governor run for 2018 or running for Senate this year with 6 years of statewide name ID under her belt and an expanded rolodex of donors.

    But instead she went for Gov in 2010, Komen in 2011, Senate in 2014. I’m sure had she won this year she’d have had her eyes set on something else. It’s not politically correct (as David Perdue found out) to bring up her lack of college degree – but 10 years in Atlanta is plenty of time to go to GSU at night as many other Georgians have done who have wanted to better themselves over the years. Would have been a powerful anecdote to have.

      • Sorry it’s an honest assessment from someone else who has put their name on the ballot before.

        To revise and extend my remarks a bit – she had earned a reputation as somewhat of a moderate from her days in Fulton County and something of a good government type from her campaign in 2010’s Governor race. I have said many times in these comments that I thought challenging Deal this year made much more sense than running for Senate – as many of the themes she hit on in 2010 (that Deal was corrupt mostly) are more true and real today than they were even then, and coming from a Republican who could command credibility (ie not Pennington or Barge) would have been very powerful.

        And going back to the former moderate theme – Perdue’s ads did not sell him as a red meat conservative, more as the common sense guy – which I believe appealed to moderate voters. Karen’s base in the 2010 primary were the suburban moderates who still voted in the GOP primary – in fact I had more than one person in 2010 tell me that because they felt like Roy Barnes didn’t have serious primary opposition that they were voting in the Republican primary for Handel because she seemed reasonable.

        41% in Cobb turned into 29% this year. 46% in DeKalb turned into 34%. 62% in Fulton turned into 40%. 38% in Gwinnett turned into 36%. In fact, the reduction in total voters in the GOP primary in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton closely correlate to Handel’s drop in votes. In other words, I believe the time at Komen did lasting damage to her prior brand, and Palin and Santorum this year just didn’t appeal to her former base. Meanwhile Perdue who ran as more of a moderate common sense type of guy (Karen’s old brand) incredibly beat her in Cobb and DeKalb and came close in Fulton and Gwinnett.

        It is heartening to see that you have made an honest friendship with someone running for office and value that relationship – but I have been making the above arguments for years in these comments. Most people here laughed them off or ignored them.

        • Baker says:

          I can absolutely assure you her time at Komen did no damage in a Republican primary. No one who voted for Perdue or Kingston, didn’t vote for Handel because of Komen. One problem was Perdue appealed to those who want a non-politician type, and then the conservative vote was just split too many ways with the other candidates.

          • MsPackrat says:

            Oh yeah? I voted for Kingston instead of Handel because I despise her for her anti-choice willingness to throw other women under the bus. Apparently she thinks she is better able to decide for other women what they should do than they are and that’s just a tad more offensive than a man doing the same thing.

            • DrGonzo says:

              So Jack Kingston is pro-choice? I’m shocked this wasn’t made public. Your reasoning here seems… stretched.

              • NorthGAGOP says:

                Kingston and Handel have identical positions when it comes to being pro-life. They are both pro-life.

                  • DrGonzo says:

                    I’ll say it again: Handel was only doing what the Komen leadership asked her to do. They’re the ones that got squishy and then threw her under the bus for following their directions.

                    • xdog says:

                      I don’t know. What you say is possible but you can’t pretend that Handel wasn’t on board with their actions. Whoever made the call, the result was a fiscal and PR catastrophe that greatly harmed Komen. The results don’t speak well to Handel’s judgement or abilities.

      • If that’s how you read the above, I feel sorry for you. I’d say many of the same things to numerous male politicians as well who reached too soon and exited the profession long before they imagined they would.

    • Doug Deal says:

      The return on investment of a degree at this point would be a waste of money. Experience trumps education every time. The only reason to get a degree at this point would be for status and that is a big part of the problem with our world today, concern over social status.

  9. saltycracker says:

    Being personal friends with a politician or financial advisor is just flat dumb. Our Judao-Christian DNA keeps us thinking we can save/influence them for the good of mankind. Their real actions s/b those in our best interest.

    If we won’t influence them someone else will is an insult to their intelligence……..but I couldn’t help myself last night to prove I was no fair weather friend.

  10. linuxfanatic says:

    It is easy for the anti-Handel crowd to contrive excuses to kick around i.e. the lack of a college degree (which Lynn Westmoreland also lacks) to job-hopping (when plenty of Georgia politicos have done the same) and whatnot, but the reality is that the other GOP women who have tried to get elected to offices that matter in this state haven’t done any better. Now Barbara Dooley back in the day was simply a bad politician running in a still-Democratic state. But this is the fourth straight election where well-known female candidates with some degree of party and grassroots support came up short. Handel played the gender card? Well Martha Zoller, Tricia Pridemore, Donna Sheldon etc. didn’t. Handel should have set her sights lower, stayed at SOS or run for Congress instead of statewide? Yeah, except Sonny Perdue went straight from back-bencher state legislator to governor, and his cousin is likely to be the next senator despite no political background at all. Besides, Zoller, Pridemore etc. tried to work their way up and that didn’t work for them either. It’s a problem, and if the GOP doesn’t get serious about fixing it then the voters will.

    Finally, the huge, unspoken problem with Handel is that she was a Fulton County politician. Or should I say, a Fulton County politician who was not utterly, diametrically opposed to Fulton County, its residents or its other political leaders but actually generally worked and got along with them fine to get useful work done. Not a Mitch Skandalakis baiting bomb thrower or a Jan Jones “let’s create Milton County to get away from those people” sort. As the Georgia GOP has the same antipathy towards Atlanta as the national GOP has towards Washington D.C., Handel was never truly trusted or accepted as a “real conservative” because of how “real conservatism” is defined by so many in this state. (You do not have to take my word for this. Instead, I refer to some threads where Last Democrat In Georgia refers to the 1 million or so intown residents as not being real Georgians, and ranted about how his relationship with Kasim Reed – which LDIG referred to as kissing his butt – was why Deal was in political trouble.) And if that attitude doesn’t change, it is only going to make it tougher for the GOP going forward as Georgia’s demographics change.

    This is not to say that Karen Handel did not have her share of problems as a candidate. But Handel is not the only one, but part of a trend. Maybe in 2016 the GOP will finally break it.

    • caroline says:

      I actually agree with a lot of what you are saying about Handel and her time in Atlanta. If she had been allowed to run as that kind of candidate by GOP voters she would have been a very strong candidate for govenor much stronger than Deal.

      That being said since I live in the 11th I will say that my problem with Pridemore but it’s not just her it’s really all the candidates. I got glossy flyer AFTER glossy flyer with the same five talking points on them. It was like all of them had their flyers made out at command central and just plastered another name on them. Not everybody in the 11th is a far right tea partier and there is no Democrat running so did it ever occur to her to maybe differentiate herself from the other candidates? I really think she probably would have done WAY better if she had forgotten about the far right and the GOP command central talking points and went for voters in the middle of the spectrum. Surely there are some moderate Republicans left in this world aren’t there?

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Karen Handel’s problem was not that she wasn’t moderate enough (read: liberal enough) for a GOP Primary in one of the most-Conservative states in the union.

          Karen Handel’s problem was most-likely that she was not a robust enough fundraiser and organizer in what was effectively a five-way race where she likely had the advantage in the number of big-name endorsements.

          If Ms. Handel had been more relentless at fundraising and organizing she most likely would have finished first, particularly with all of the momentum and media coverage going in her direction within the last couple of months or so of the primary campaign.

          Still, even with her softness in fundraising and organizing, Ms. Handel still turned-in a strong 3rd-place finish because of her high-profile endorsements and her very-high name recognition.

          Add in a very-robust fundraising and organizational apparatus to the high-profile endorsements and very-high name ID and Ms. Handel likely would have effectively blown away what turned-out to be kind of a disappointing GOP Primary field.

          For whatever reason, people often seem to underestimate the critical importance of relentless fundraising and organizing, but considering that ‘Money is the Mother’s Milk of Politics’ they really shouldn’t.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Goes hand-in-hand with the GAGOP minority problem. The fact that we have very few elected, that is. And now we’re losing the only black Republican in the state legislature, Willie Talton.

      Now I don’t know the circumstances of his primary defeat, but I know the guy who beat him was white. Though the reasons could entirely be unrelated to race, and probably are.

      Ashley Bell is described as a ‘rising star’ in the party, but he can’t get any support or traction for the State School Super race. Sure he’s an ex-Democrat, but so is Nathan Deal. Hell, Sonny Perdue had been a Republican for MAYBE five years before he became governor. If the GAGOP thinks he’s so great why didn’t he have two nickels to rub together from inside or outside the state? Of course, there could and probably are lots of reasons, none of which involve race, as to why he couldn’t gain some headway. But the public perception doesn’t help, and that perception is that Georgia Republicans could care less about you if you’re a woman or minority.

      I’m not arguing for some kind of affirmative action. We don’t need it. Our problem is we ignore the excellent candidates we already have. The good ole’ boy network is still strong here, and that can affect fundraising for female or minority candidates that are working up through the ranks. And as David Perdue and Jack Kingston have just reminded everybody with their $10 million+ in combined campaign and pac spending: if you don’t have money, nobody knows who you are. Break up the network, and you’ll get a more equal playing field for women and minorities. Easier said than done, right?

      Finally, I’d just like to add that Karen Handel would never have cost the state over $1 million in taxpayer money by losing a case against the ethics commissioner she sacked for looking too closely at her campaign finances. Like some people I know.

    • MattMD says:


      One thing to remember is that Barnes backed some wrong horses in 2002. He supported positions against the teacher’s, the “Flaggers” but supported the Northern Arc. He basically doomed himself. Perdue was a rank amateur and we as a state paid for it. Remember his silly “rat” commercial? These are Purdue’s and they are the lowest common denominator. Perdue was a bigger “do-nothing” governor than Joe Frank Harris. Sonny was the pointed headed boss in Dilbert and I bet David would turn out to be Catbert.

      As far as degrees, I agree, I couldn’t care less. Both Broun and Gingrey have professional degrees yet look at their positions and look at them now.

  11. Trey A. says:

    I don’t know Karen Handel personally, but I’ve voted for her several times. I’m not enthusiastic about the runoff. Also disappointed that Barge didn’t do better. I’ll be following Nunn closely once she has to finally start talking about the issues.

    Charlie, don’t underestimate your leverage. Those of us that know you and respect you as a “thinking” conservative take your endorsements seriously. You’ve influenced my ballot in thepast (Handel, Carol Porter and others).

    • Baker says:

      Agree with you totally Trey. I was very disappointed Karen didn’t make the runoff and was also disappointed Barge didn’t do better.

      As for this part: “I’ll be following Nunn closely once she has to finally start talking about the issues” I’ve got news for you. She’ll try her damndest (damnest?) to never be pinned down on anything. “Moderate Democrats” means Harry Reid stays Majority Leader and he sure ain’t no moderate.

      “Moderate Democrats” is a myth for electability, either because on the inside they’re super liberal, or because, as in John Barrow’s case, they just really want to politicians and don’t care what they gotta do to stay elected.

  12. LoyaltyIsMyHonor says:

    This post is premature…She’ll be back…run for something…it’s in her blood. Really, her next step is just to wait for Price to retire or run for Governor or U.S. Senate…maybe state legislature….who knows…..

  13. PegM says:

    Karen Handel is a class act. She and Steve are gracious, approachable, and genuine people. I hope she sticks around for a while. I’ll never forget that Karen took time from campaigning to attend the services of beloved Gwinnett activist, Joan Zellner. That was special.

  14. jiminga says:

    The wife and I both voted for Karen last time and this time. She’s a class act and an example of how candidates should act. Unfortunately, truth loses to money these days.

  15. MsPackrat says:

    I wouldn’t vote for her for dogcatcher, but I am a moderate Republican woman who is a feminist and remembers that the GOP was the first party to back the ERA and the leader in abortion law reform. KHandel’s desire to force women not to have a choice is abhorrent to me.

    • TheEiger says:

      You realize that her views on abortion are the same as the others in the race except for Broun who had no exceptions? Or are you just too blinded with ignorance to see that?

Comments are closed.