Karen Handel buries the hatchet and endorses Nathan Deal in re-election fight

Karen Handel is endorsing Gov. Nathan Deal's re-election campaign.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Karen Handel is endorsing Gov. Nathan Deal's re-election campaign.

Karen Handel is burying the hatchet and endorsing Gov. Nathan Deal, her once-bitter rival, in his re-election fight.

Handel, a former Georgia Secretary of State, has long had a tempestuous relationship with Deal, who eked out a narrow victory over her in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. She said Monday the past enmity was "water under the bridge."

"I am trying to look at the big picture. There are a lot of things that take priority over past contests. I'm looking at what's best and right for our state and Georgians," said Handel. "Gov.  Deal has done a good job. And when we look at the next four years the question is do we want to have the steady hand of experience and maturity or do we want to pass it off to someone who is inexperienced?"

On one level, it should come as no surprise that the GOP field is falling in line behind Deal as his contest against Democrat Jason Carter tightens. But the vitriol which marked their rivalry makes today's endorsement all the more surprising.

Handel and Deal battered each other for months in a bruising primary and runoff in that 2010 race. Her campaign once questioned whether he had a problem with women in leadership - "women can do more than just fetch your coffee" was among her attacks. Deal's camp responded by calling her rhetoric "unhinged blather."

Handel endorsed Deal in his general election contest against former Gov. Roy Barnes but did little to boost his campaign.  Their relationship further strained when she published a book, "Planned Bullyhood," in late 2012 that ticked off a series of "alleged ethical lapses" committed by Deal. Deal's office depicted the attacks as "sadder than the end of 'Old Yeller.'"

But the frostiness between the two has thawed in recent months. As she mounted her unsuccessful bid for the Senate GOP nomination, Handel and Deal would exchange warm greetings at campaign events. She also attended his annual "Grilling with the Governor" event at Lake Lanier in July.

"It's water under the bridge," she said. "I didn't get to where I am today by being focused on the past."

She added:

"I don't know if they were ever as frosty between the two candidates. Staff-wise maybe. Again, it was a campaign. I wanted to win. And Gov. Deal wanted to win. But one of the most important things about life is understanding and being the bigger person and magnanimous in victory."

Handel was asked if she has made up with Deal's staff as well - namely his spokesman Brian Robinson and top aide Chris Riley. She chuckled.

"It's campaigns. Quippy is quippy let's just leave it at that," she said. "I never try to outquip a quipster."

Handel's endorsement, along with other planned announcements coming this month, are part of a circle-the-wagons movement by Republicans to rally to Deal's aide. Polls show a close contest with Carter, the Atlanta state senator and grandson of the former president.

Most Democrats have fallen in line behind Carter's camp, too, though some more grudgingly than others. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has long had close ties with the governor, recently hosted a fundraiser for his fellow Democrat. But his spokeswoman pointedly said the "fundraiser doesn't equal an endorsement."