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Timing, duties factor in candidates decision
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Forsyth County News
Secretary of State Karen Handel says her decision to step down to focus on her gubernatorial campaign was the right one.

Handel announced Tuesday that she would officially step down before 2010.

In an e-mail to her supporters, the north Fulton County resident described it as “an extraordinarily difficult decision — professionally and personally.”

“While certainly manageable, serving as secretary of state while also running for governor was no longer the best approach for the office or my campaign,” she wrote.

It’s also a choice that has left her open to some jabbing from the opposition.

Tim Echols, spokes-man for State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s gubernatorial campaign, said he was “not at all surprised” by the move.

“Karen Handel has a track record of not finishing what she starts,” he said.

Echols said Oxendine, who was the front-runner in the most recent Rasmussen Report telephone survey, “will not be resigning his position under any circumstances.”

The most recent poll, released last week, shows Oxendine with 28 percent support, compared to Handel’s 14 percent. U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville carried 13 percent.

Oxendine’s support was at 35 percent in April, but none of the other candidates have made any gains as a result. Thirty-two percent of Republican voters polled remained undecided.

Though Deal’s campaign did not comment specifically on Handel, spokesman Harris Blackwood did make a statement.

“Nathan Deal has taken an oath to serve the people of Georgia and has a clear record of completing his terms,” he said, adding that Deal “has proven he can handle his congressional and campaign duties.”

In her announcement, Handel cited perceived conflicts of interest if she were to certify results of the primary and general election as a candidate for governor.

Her argument is a good one, said Gary J. Smith, who as chairman of Forsyth County’s elections board has worked closely with Handel in her capacity as secretary of state.

“It’s a good strategy on her part and it certainly allows her to focus her time and energy on one thing, which is running for governor,” he said.

Handel didn’t delve into the financial repercussions of her decision, though stepping down does give her the ability to raise much-needed funds this winter.

Georgia law prevents a sitting elected official from raising money during the legislative session, which typically runs from January to April.

With a primary election in July, and her campaign trailing Deal and Oxendine by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the months of fundraising could help.

Oxendine is the clear leader in financial contributions, totaling more than $1.45 million. Deal has raised about $1.23 million and Handel has about $431,000.

Smith said being able to spend four months raising money could give Handel an edge.

“The interesting part is who they are going to name as the interim secretary of state,” added Smith, noting that person would be an incumbent if he or she opted to run again. “And that’s a pretty powerful thing to have beside your name when you’re running.”