Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is expected in Georgia Monday to stump for her candidate in the state’s hotly disputed GOP gubernatorial primary on Tuesday—a race in which red-meat conservative issues like gay marriage and abortion have taken center stage.
Ms. Palin is working, to the surprise of some in the GOP, to elect former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a relatively centrist Republican from metro Atlanta who is opposed by the state’s most influential anti-abortion group and who local gay activists once considered an ally.
Ms. Handel, who recent polls show leading former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal by five points, rocketed to the front of the GOP primary after Ms. Palin endorsed her a month ago. Ms. Palin called her a “pro-life, pro-Constitutionalist with a can-do attitude.” Ms. Handel also has the support of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Mr. Deal, an 18-year congressman from the foothills of north Georgia, has strong support from Republican legislators, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and rural voters in his old congressional district. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee—who won the Georgia Republican presidential primary in 2008—visited the state Sunday to campaign for Mr. Deal.
The race underscores the challenge facing many Republican candidates and organizers this year as they attempt to maintain the sometimes unwieldy partnership of fiscal and social conservatives that has often been the foundation of the party’s power in recent years. With social and anti-tax conservatives energized by tea party groups and popular leaders such as Ms. Palin and Mr. Huckabee, some candidates have tacked hard to the right, but not without the risk of alienating more moderate GOP voters and independents who may be critical in the November general election.
Whoever wins the Georgia runoff will face former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who lost the office in 2002 but has polled strongly against all Republicans in recent months. He won the Democratic primary in July by a wide margin.