Karen Handel’s favorite tune: ‘A String of Pearls’

Even before she claimed one of two berths in the June 20 runoff for the Sixth District congressional race, Karen Handel’s defiance was on full display Tuesday night.

On every linen-covered table was a vase of white carnations. And at the base of every vase lay a string of fake pearls.

This was no message intended for Jon Ossoff, the Democrat whose million-dollar grip on voters roused by Donald Trump wasn’t strong enough to avoid two more months of campaigning.

No, the pearls were a tasteful but unmistakable middle finger aimed at the Republican men who, over the past six years, had thwarted Handel’s attempts to join the GOP power club. Specifically, her 2010 race for governor, and a 2014 bid for the U.S. Senate.

The gentlemen in question, certainly, might point to other reasons for Handel’s past failures. A sometimes acerbic style, for instance.

Nonetheless, for the first time since she left the post of secretary of state to make her gubernatorial run, Handel won a GOP primary on Tuesday – for that’s what the race for the No.2 spot became, essentially. And for the first time, Republicans in Georgia are now poised to send a woman to Congress.

Do not expect her to emphasize it. Handel represents a party that officially condemns identity politics. But the fact will be there, in the subtext.

”Throughout my life and throughout my career, I’ve been told more times than I can count that ‘You can’t do that. You shouldn’t do that,’” Handel, a strand of pearls at her throat, told supporters who gathered to watch the votes roll in.

Many of them displayed a similar taste in jewelry. Which we should probably explain.

Supporter Donna Barrow holds a strand of fake pearls set out on the tables at or a political point at Karen Handel’s election night viewing party. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

Fred Davis is a California-based maker of campaign TV ads. In 2014, on behalf of U.S. Senate contender David Perdue, Davis created a TV spot that featured his GOP primary rivals, including Handel, as crying babies. The girl baby wore a strand of pearls.

In the Sixth District campaign, Davis worked for former state senator Dan Moody, a self-funder backed by Perdue. In his debut ad, Moody wielded a large shovel, ready to tackle the load of manure dropped by a parade of elephants. One of the elephants wore a giant strand of pearls around its neck.

Advertisers would call this little detail an “Easter egg.” But Republican women know when they’re being mocked. Moody finished fourth on Tuesday.

Among the supporters Handel singled out from the stage on Tuesday was Sue Everhart, the former state GOP chairman whom two governors – Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal – had tried to depose. Both failed.

Talk to Republican women, and you will often hear stories of being restricted to organizing events or stuffing envelopes.

While we waited for the ballot results, Everhart told me of the time a high-ranking Republican man – she didn’t want to name him, because he has come around – expressed surprise when he found out that Everhart had once been vice president of a bank, and that her late husband had been a doctor.

“I said, ‘What difference does it make?’ Everhart said. “He said, ‘In our world, it makes a lot of difference.’”

I pushed Everhart to name the difficulties that come with a skirt and heels in a GOP primary. “From county chairmen down, you can get support. But when you go to the higher-ups to get the money, they’re not even going to talk to you,” the former GOP chairman said.

Handel’s victory party bore this out. Not only was it small, but it was absent any of the high-octane Georgia Republicans who populate the state Capitol.

This was not a big-money affair, acknowledged John Garst, president of Rosetta Stone Communications, a local campaign firm. Garst has been with Handel from the beginning.

“Now we have the question: Will the Republican power crowd that isn’t here right now – there’s going to be some talking done in the backroom,” Garst said. “Do they get behind her or do they not?”

The most influential Republican at the Handel party stood silently against a wall while his candidate claimed her victory. Rob Simms was Handel’s chief of staff when she was secretary of state, and now has a D.C. consulting firm. In between, he was executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the organization in charge of House Republican races.

So Simms is familiar with the problems Republicans have had when it comes to fielding female candidates. But the GOP is getting better at it, he said.

“With Karen, you’ve had someone who has typically been the outsider. She’s younger. She hasn’t been in the Legislature for 20 years, and she’s not independently wealthy. So she can’t self-finance,” Simms said. But voters respond to her persistence, he said.

On one hand, for Republicans, Handel may have been the best candidate to emerge from the Sixth District scrum – considering the tens of thousands of angry women who marched through Atlanta streets in protest of President Trump’s January inauguration.

But there’s a disadvantage to being a Republican woman in Georgia, too. To compensate for those disadvantages enumerated by Simms, Handel has developed a pair of sharp elbows.

She campaigned against the “good ol’ boy” system in the state Capitol during her failed 2010 race for governor. (She finished first in the initial round of primary voting, but lost the GOP runoff to Nathan Deal.) Two years later, in her book on her decision to leave the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation after an internal fight over Planned Parenthood and abortion, Handel ticked off a series of “alleged ethical lapses” committed by now-Governor Nathan Deal.

They have supposedly made up. Handel endorsed Deal’s 2014 re-election, and the governor on Wednesday declared himself solidly behind Handel’s bid for Congress. Yet the relationship bears watching.

“Some call me tough. Others call me scrappy. Some even say I’m stubborn. And all of that is true,” Handel said Tuesday night as her husband Steve nodded in agreement.

“We’ll celebrate a little bit tonight,” Handel told the crowd. Her voice dropped, and took on a sly, finely honed edge. “Then we need to consider that it might just be time to send another set of pearls to Washington.”

Reader Comments 0

80 comments
Marcia Brownlee Cantor
Marcia Brownlee Cantor

Yes, she is the best choice for Georgia!!!! I'm just so excited to have a woman who will carry on our ideals and values of working hard and Making America Great Again. You'll be Great\U0001f600

Frank Cicalese
Frank Cicalese

Liberal/Socialist Georgia Politics News Now is at it, again, eh? lol...

Dustin Ketchem
Dustin Ketchem

Handel is the creature from the swamp that is D.C.

Rick Maddox
Rick Maddox

Still being petty and mean-spirited.

Sue Anne Morgan
Sue Anne Morgan

Handel is worthless. Look at her track record. Talk to people who have worked with/for her. She would be an abysmal choice.

Marci Baer McCarthy
Marci Baer McCarthy

It is Karen Handel's time and the Republicans are proudly uniting for her with endorsements from Governor Nathan Deal, Saxby Chambliss and President Trump -- to name a few. She will represent the GA-6th! Not some keg standing, liberal, Carpet Bagger who can not vote for himself! #KarenHandel

Hilton Spence
Hilton Spence

Look at her record! Obviously hates herself and women in general

Tony Bell
Tony Bell

No ossoff in my house or my biker friends house.

Marilyn Carruthers
Marilyn Carruthers

It is time for us to stand with President Trump. Vote Republican in Georgia.\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8\U0001f1fa\U0001f1f8

Marilyn Carruthers
Marilyn Carruthers

No more liberals in the state of Georgia. It is time for a change.

Marilyn Carruthers
Marilyn Carruthers

Republicans need to rally around Karen Handel... turn the state red...

Diane Tillman
Diane Tillman

I don't like her...she has a vendetta and she wants to prove she is a dedicated republican who is worthy of being a member. Dangerous for democrats for sure.

Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen

That not middle finger to the rep but thats a middle finger to that assoff guy he think he can get 50 percent lolz

Dawn Reed
Dawn Reed

Well what does she expect belonging to the party of sexism and a multitude of other deplorable characteristics? If she wins the seat, I guess I'll at least get to celebrate that she'll get to give the middle finger (pearls) to her misogynistic, good 'ol boy network of peers! #Resist #FlipThe6th #PaveItBlue #VoteYourOssoff

Keith LaSalle
Keith LaSalle

Ah yes. Another liberal triggered. Lol. Spouting off key words from the liberal handbook. Who said Mondays suck? This one is turning out pretty damn well

Brenda Addison
Brenda Addison

Aaah! AMERICA is no longer your playground . Adjust . Vote RED.

Hilton Spence
Hilton Spence

NEVER EVER WOULD I WANT TO BE LIKE YOU!!!! EVER!!

Sam Nicholas
Sam Nicholas

But conservatives love and respect women? I haven't seen it yet.

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

I don't know about power club but she'll surely be the next congresswoman in the GOP.

Linda Sheldon
Linda Sheldon

A doofus and an ignorant anti-feminist with no college degree. Embracing anti-intellectualism and right wing misogyny.

Rick Maddox
Rick Maddox

And Keith LaSalle signs off because he can't count past 5.\U0001f615

Hosea Foote
Hosea Foote

Bunch of broke Republicans. I don't get it. Oh yeah it's just hate..with no cause.

Ryan Padgett
Ryan Padgett

If liberals don't vote for Handel, does that make them sexist? \U0001f440

Barbara Austen Cheng
Barbara Austen Cheng

It's not just enough to be a woman. It's about being competent, educated enough to understand complex legislation in a complex world, and actually fighting for constituents and their families, not the Republican agenda of giving tax cuts for the rich at all costs including our healthcare and kids' future. When your conservative values are cruelty, lies and greed - you don't represent me in any way - and that's all I see from conservatives these days.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Keep drinking that liberal kool-aid. After all, it has cost the left, the House, the Senate and 1600.

Ted Wetherby
Ted Wetherby

I though it was Johnny Cash ring of fire. She'll go down ,down ,down in the burning ring of fire.

Keith LaSalle
Keith LaSalle

4th liberal triggered lol. Love it. Osoff has no chance now. Do the math. 48% of votes for 1 Democrat but 51.01% for all 11 Republicans. Once they rally behind her.... it's pretty simple math 51%>48% lol

Ted Wetherby
Ted Wetherby

Your math is off there is an interactive map showing the republican voters for each and the democrat voter for each town and Ossoff's numbers were higher than the towns that voted predominantly for Handel

Keith LaSalle
Keith LaSalle

Again it's simple math. So let me type slowly so you can grasp the concept..... Osoff went against what 11 or so candidates so when all the Republican voters come together in June the district will be Red.

Jim Dempsey
Jim Dempsey

Does Karen Handel have something else to wear besides red?

Don Gulick
Don Gulick

Someone told her it was a "power color". \U0001f4a9\U0001f4a9

Mark Cosby
Mark Cosby

Power is all any of these people are interested in. Democrat, Republican. They care nothing for you. It's a club.

Thomas Janter
Thomas Janter

A Fraud who will support the corrupt, treasonous, mentally unfit, incompetent, lying TRUMP and his SWAMP agenda for the 1% Rich. The 6th district needs an intelligent, practical, open minded, Jon Ossoff who will work for the benefit of all lAmerican and the needs of the district.

Leon Gibbs
Leon Gibbs

"Corrupt, treasonous,mentally unfit, lying ". You sir have it backwards, because what you just described is the way of the democrats.

Thomas Janter
Thomas Janter

Leon Gibbs GET A Brain Trumpet. what world do you've in? BLOCK LEON GIBBS

Brian Smith
Brian Smith

The liberal democrat party is a terrorist organization!

Alexander Ioannidis
Alexander Ioannidis

Seriously? She has distanced herself from Trump. Now Ossoff, thats another story. He will support everything Nancy Pelosi tells him and thats frightening

John Holmes
John Holmes

Ossoff spent $8 million just to lose.and he talks about wasting money .It a Democrat thing

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

Poor snowflake Thomas Janter Let's tear that bandaid off and put on a new one....

John Woods
John Woods

Well Comrade Janter it seems you like the Iron Boot of Socialism on your neck...And, by voting for Pajama Boy...You'll ensure that will happen...

Kevin Post
Kevin Post

John Holmes If you care about wasting money. Here you go. Donald Trump's travel to his private club in Florida has cost over an estimated $20 million in his first 80 days as president, putting the president on pace in his first year of office to surpass former President Barack Obama's spending on travel for his entire eight years. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/10/politics/donald-trump-obama-travel-costs/index.html?sr=fbCNN041117donald-trump-obama-travel-costs1200AMStoryLink&linkId=36384415

Keith LaSalle
Keith LaSalle

Wow what a Monday morning. A liberal, Thomas Janter, is triggered!!! And they say Mondays suck.... not this one lol

Lexa King
Lexa King

John Holmes, you dare to call someone an idiot, but don't know when to use "you're"?

James Steven Purvis
James Steven Purvis

Just like any other GOP supporter....frozen in fear about accepting others, parroting facts without support.

Billy Edens
Billy Edens

Well I am glad you got that off your chest, "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" not just Washington...