Let’s face it. Karen Handel ran a great race, and she was by far her party’s strongest candidate, but now, she will sit on the sidelines and watch while Barnes takes Deal apart. In coming days, there will be analysis ad nauseam regarding why Karen Handel was unable to win her party’s nomination.

  • It could have been that the hard core Republicans who braved the heat to vote in the run-off were more conservative than those who voted in the primary, and therefore more concerned about her stands on abortion and her waffling on gay rights. (By the way, let me pause here to say, isn’t it interesting that now two woman with a shot at becoming Governor may have lost that opportunity in part because they appeared to back away from their support of gay rights such as domestic partner benefits or marriage?)
  • It could have been that she relied a bit too much on Sarah Palin and over-estimated her popularity .
  • It could have been that she peeked at just the wrong moment.

It could have been a lot of things, but I think the race turned the day Karen Handel said this:

“It’s frankly time to put the big-boy pants on because, candidly, if you can’t handle this, how are you going to handle (Democratic nominee) Roy Barnes?” Handel said at a debate sponsored by Fox 5 Atlanta.

Why? Because anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes in the South knows the phrase is not “put on your big boy pants.” It’s “put on your big boy britches.” No, I don’t think the choice of phrase cost her the race, but I do think the message sent was significant.  In that ten second sound-bite, Handel demonstrated that “she’s not from here,” and that she intended to punch, hard, and worry about fair later. That made it okay to punch back, and Deal finally did.  Handel, who is from Maryland, probably missed the nuance, just like she misunderstood the ability of the Georgia Republican Good ‘Ol Boy Network to derail her campaign. She wasn’t from here, and she jettisoned the support of the only network that existed when she (appropriately) threw them under the bus with her comments following then-speaker Richardson’s “issues.” She ran as the outsider, with no women’s organization support her, and, on Tuesday, she paid the price.

But, I think it could have been different.

Because there is no statewide organization like Georgia’s WIN List that supports Republican women candidates, there was no organized effort to put a thumb on the other side of the scale. She was on her on. By the way, over the last several days, I have wondered aloud what it whether it could have made a difference for Cathy Cox if WIN List had then been in a position to offer a broader variety of support, or if she’s accepted the help of EMILY’S List, but moving on…)

Yesterday, the britches crowd beat the pants crowd, as is predictable in Georgia. What did we learn? Politics is a team sport, not a tennis match. It’s not enough for a celebrity, male or female, to swoop in at the last minute. Especially in the South, to play and win on the field built by the guys, women need an effective, finely-tuned political organization that’s on their side, looking out for them, and that’s why WIN List exists.

3 Responses to Pants vs. Britches

  1. Jen B. says:

    Interesting. I didn’t know the phrase was big boy britches. Even though I’ve been here since ’94, I’m still tainted by my California roots.

  2. Justin McDaniel says:

    My guess is that the mostly male GOP base that voted, in slight majority, tuesday ultimatley couldn’t stomach a female governor (or perhaps more specifically, a female gubernatorial candidate)… sad as that is to say.
    I think Palin’s presence turned the race into a microcosmic gender war within the GOP base, in which Deal had an advantage…


  3. JMPrince says:

    Well put Amy. JMP