ATLANTA — Sarah Palin handed Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Karen Handel her conservative seal of approval on Monday in a tight Republican runoff, saying Handel would "fight like a mama grizzly" and help usher out the state's "good ol' boy network."
The former Alaska governor swept into Atlanta to stump for Handel on the eve of the runoff election Tuesday against former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal. The winner will face Democrat Roy Barnes in the November general election.
"Are you ready to elect a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, commonsense constitutional conservative, who will fight like a mama grizzly for you and the values that you hold dear?" Palin asked a cheering crowd in a hotel ballroom.
Palin called the Georgia campaign "epic" and said Handel — who has made ethics a centerpiece of her bid — would prove there's a better way to lead.
"The eyes of the nation are on you Georgia, to see if you get rid of that good ol' boy network," Palin said. "People are watching what's going on in Georgia."
Handel is running to become Georgia's first female governor.
Deal was campaigning on Monday in seven cities across the state. On Sunday, former Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee headlined a rally for Deal. Huckabee won Georgia's GOP presidential primary in 2008 with strong support from the state's evangelical voters.
Palin's endorsement in the primary campaign was widely credited with catapulting Handel into a first-place finish among seven GOP gubernatorial candidates. But Handel missed the mark of 50 percent plus one vote, triggering a runoff against Deal as the second-place finisher.
The Handel camp was betting Palin's appearance at the 40-minute rally Monday would whip up enthusiasm and remind voters to turn out again Tuesday.
A poll released Sunday showed Handel and Deal in a tight race, with Handel leading Deal 47 percent to 42 percent and 11 percent of voters undecided. The survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of 625 likely voters, taken between Wednesday and Friday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was paid for by 13 daily newspapers across Georgia.
Palin said she and Handel have both been underestimated throughout their careers and have run as reformers.
Handel left home at age 17 after she says her alcoholic mother pointed a shotgun at her and has spoken openly about her struggle to earn a college degree. She left after earning only a few credits and went on to work in the White House for Marilyn Quayle, without earning a degree.
Palin on Monday called Handel, who stepped down as Georgia's secretary of state to run for governor, "a self-made, strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps."
"She left a tough home situation and got a good education. She didn't blame her circumstances. She worked hard to get where she is today," Palin said.
Palin and Handel entered the hotel ballroom to the strains of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and chants of "Sa-rah!"