No stranger to statewide campaigns, Handel served as Georgia’s secretary of state and ran unsuccessfully for governor. In those races, she has tried to paint herself as a true conservative, of the right-wing ilk that gets elected here.
Sounds like she is already taking the same tack in the Senate race: “Georgians want a conservative senator with the courage to take on the status quo, to fight for them and our constitutional ideals, to be accountable to them — and not Washington,” she says in a press release quoted by the AJC’s Political Insider.
The problem for Handel is that she comes off sounding more like a political opportunist than purist, thanks to her campaigns a decade ago for Fulton County Commission.
Back then, you see, Handel courted gay voters, sought endorsements from gay groups, and attended a gay election forum — though she has tried to distance herself from that history, with more and less plausible excuses.
That’s why Handel’s entrance into the Senate race makes it even more likely that gay Georgians will once again be treated as a controversy, rather than a voting bloc or simply as constituents, in this election.
As Handel’s past races show, her opponents consistently bring up her history on gay rights to try to prove that she is not as holier-than-thou conservative as they are, and Handel in turn takes pains to show she can be just as anti-gay as the boys.
Take her 2010 run for governor, where she lost to Nathan Deal in the Republican primary.
Deal went after Handel’s Fulton record, Handel offered absurd excuses even after GA Voice revealed emails that showed her correspondence with a gay political group then, and Handel even went so far as to speak out against gay adoption and gay parents to prove her homophobic credentials.
The whole thing was so ridiculous it even sparked a segment on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” mocking the campaign’s focus on “the gay monster.”
This time around, it is hard to expect anything but more of the same, especially given the records of the other announced candidates in the race.
On the most recent Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard on LGBT issues, Broun scored a measly 15 out of 100, while Gingrey and Kingston earned a flat 0.
And P.S. — Voters who care about women’s rights might also want to recall the controversy that surrounded Handel’s stint as senior vice president of public policy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer non-profit, where she was credited with the highly controversial decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.
The decision was reversed, and Handel resigned, after huge national outcry.
(Publicity photo of Karen Handel)