From Augusta's position on the Savannah River, with Nikki Haley's victory over Gresham Barrett in the South Carolina Republican primary and Handel's strong performance Tuesday, it might appear to be "the year of the woman," or a good year for Republican women at the least.
Augusta Republican Janice McDonald called it that at a Handel rally in Evans, where most in the crowd were women and many were members of Columbia County Republican Women.
"Change for the better" came in the form of female leadership to clean up politics, McDonald said.
Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, compared herself to Haley, California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and governor hopeful Meg Whitman.
"They are business women, they are outsiders, and they're not career politicians. They are reformers," Handel said.
Putting the Georgia governor's race into the national spotlight was Sarah Palin's endorsement of Handel as the "mama grizzly" of choice for voters, eight days before the primary. Following Palin was Newt Gingrich's endorsement of Deal; then came Mitt Romney's Handel endorsement.
Palin's endorsement of Haley aided the primary runoff "slam dunk" of a candidate who led by a wider margin than Handel in the primary, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.
Palin's endorsement led to the surge of support for Handel in the week before the primary, particularly outside metro Atlanta, but it remains to be seen whether it will carry Handel to a win in November.
With each victory by a Palin candidate increasing the strength of the brand, Georgia might see its first woman governor, he said.
Women have had greater success running for statewide office in Georgia as Republicans, beginning with trailblazer and former superintendent of schools Linda Schrenko, who was followed by Kathy Cox. Democrat Cathy Cox is the only other woman to hold statewide elected office, that of secretary of state, in Georgia.
In the original "year of the woman," 1992, women gained several seats in the U.S. Senate and the number has steadily increased. Georgia has had only one, Rebecca Felton, who served for a few months of 1922, and five U.S. congresswomen.
On the ballot in November is another woman candidate for statewide office, Carol Porter, the wife of state Rep. Dubose Porter, who came in fourth in the Democratic primary for governor.
Carol Porter will face Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for his seat after winning 70 percent of votes July 20 against Patricia McCracken, whose only campaign act was paying her qualifying fee.
Among Columbia County Young Republicans, the mind-set is not to vote "for people based on demographics," said the group's founder, Megan Seda, who is supporting Deal for governor, as is her mother and fellow young Republican Sarah Harper Scott.
"I'm kind of concerned when people see you endorsing based on a demographic instead of a set of principles," Seda said. "It kind of devalues your endorsements."
Women have long been "hesitant to be involved" in politics, said Candy Waites, the executive director of the bipartisan South Carolina Gubernatorial Appointments Project, a grant-funded, bipartisan effort to increase the presence of women in senior-level state government positions.
The cost of running a campaign and the old notion that a woman should "keep the home fires burning" have kept women away from political office, but many find once they get their feet wet that they have as much aptitude for governing as their male counterparts, Waites said. "In our state, it may be party over gender," she said.
Ironically, Haley wouldn't sign a pledge to utilize the vetted list of women candidates while Barrett did, Waites said.