Georgia GOPers Spar Over Whether You Need A College Degree To Be Senator


Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) is making sure nobody forgets businessman David Perdue’s (R) flap about her level of education in the Georgia Senate race.

Handel, who is competing with Perdue and a number of other candidates in the Georgia primary, recently released a new radio ad hitting Perdue for bashing Handel for not finishing her college degree.

“I’m Karen Handel. When I heard David’s comments I thought bless his heart, he’s been overseas too long and lost touch with our values: hard work and making the most of life. That’s what makes Georgia great,” Handel said in the ad. “I left a troubled home at 17, finished high school, got a job, and attended some college. I worked my way up in the private sector and became Georgia’s first elected Republican secretary of State.”

The ad, released last week, is one of the latest attacks between the two candidates over what is increasingly shaping to be a fight over whether Perdue is too elitist or whether Handel isn’t qualified to be a United States senator. Perdue has repeatedly touted his business experience in the race. In December he said the other candidates “don’t have the business background” necessary to go to Washington and improve the economy.

In video that resurfaced recently, Perdue made a rather unsubtle jab at Handel’s lack of a college degree in January.

“I mean, there’s a high school graduate in this race, okay? I’m sorry but these issues are so much broader, so complex,” Perdue said. “There’s only one candidate in this race that’s ever lived outside the United States. How can you bring value to a debate about the economy unless you have any understanding about the free enterprise system and how — what it takes to compete in the global economy.”

Handel’s campaign didn’t let that slide.

“It is disappointing that David would demean someone who — by no fault of her own — moved out of an abusive home at age 17, and with her own hard work and determination, is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Handel campaign manager Corry Bliss told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement.

Roughly a week later Perdue took a rare step in a GOP primary and called Handel to apologize.

“David made a heartfelt personal call to Ms. Handel that was intended to remain private,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said of the call. “He contacted her directly for no other reason than to let her now he was sorry for the comment. There is certainly no expectation for her to change campaign tactics.”

It’s understandable, from a political point of view, why Perdue apologized and why Handel is continuing to attack him. National Journal recently noted that just 27.8 percent of Georgians 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or something higher than that. Meanwhile, 84.4 percent have a high school diploma.

“About two-thirds of Georgia adults do not have college educations so there are a lot of toes that could be stepped on there,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock told TPM on Monday. “I think what that really is indicative of is the kind of rookie mistakes that individuals who have been very successful in other aspects are guilty of when they try to run for public office.”

“I don’t know that it necessarily means that people would unbuckle from his campaign and immediately sign up with Handel’s, but it may mean that they would back away from Perdue and move toward [Georgia Republican Senate candidate Rep. Jack] Kingston,” Bullock continued.

“The elitism thing doesn’t play that well in Georgia,” Bullock added.

Listen to Handel’s new radio ad below: