Rep. Phil GingreyJohn (Phil) Phillip GingreyEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street 2017's top health care stories, from ObamaCare to opioids Beating the drum on healthcare MORE (R-Ga.) claims former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) is "pro-gay" and "promoted teenage homosexuality" because, as Fulton County, Ga. commissioner, she approved funds for a gay youth group.
It's the latest attack in an increasingly nasty primary campaign ahead of Tuesday's GOP Senate primary. But Gingrey once praised Handel's moral character on social issues, according to a 2012 email from Gingrey to Handel obtained by The Hill.
"Handel's pro-gay past: Promoted teenage homosexuality," reads a memo blasted out by Gingrey's fading Senate campaign late Wednesday afternoon.
"Will we condone Karen Handel's vote for Youth Pride that promotes teenage homosexuality?" asks a narrator in Gingrey's latest Senate ad, a spot that also attacks businessman David Perdue (R) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).
Handel's campaign responded by providing The Hill with an email following her highly publicized departure two years ago from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer research charity, following her failed push to keep them from funding Planned Parenthood.
Gingrey wrote Handel in a February 2012 email that the "entire pro-life community [is] proud of you for your personal integrity and strength of character."
Handel campaign manager Corry Bliss called the recent attack from Gingrey "a laughable, last minute smear from a candidate in last place," and said Handel "has adamantly opposed gay marriage [and] gay adoption." Bliss earlier told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the grant hadn't been her idea and that each commissioner had gotten a grant, though she did vote for it.
This isn't the first time Handel has been attacked on this issue. Now-Gov. Nathan Deal (R) went after her for the same thing in their nasty 2010 gubernatorial primary.
Gingrey has languished in fifth place behind Handel, Perdue, Kingston and Rep. Paul BrounPaul Collins BrounHundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia California lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment MORE (R-Ga.) in most recent polls of the race. The top two candidates in Tuesday's primary will advance to a runoff.
Gingrey spokesman Cameron Harley argues the issue of funding for Youth Pride, which provides HIV education and suicide prevention services for gay youth, is relevant to the race. He wouldn't say whether Gingrey was implying that homosexuality is a choice that Handel was encouraging and argued the attack was instead about the use of taxpayer funds.
"We're simply getting at the character issue of whether Handel is telling the truth or not. If she has in the past, she has to own up to it," he said, and argued that the Handel campaign's release of the email is "but another shiny object she's using to distract them from her vote and the lies she's told to cover up her vote."