[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/19/art.karenhandel.handel.jpg caption ="After a key endorsement from Sarah Palin, Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel holds a lead in Georgia’s GOP primary race, according to a new poll."] (CNN) - One day before primaries in Georgia, a new poll indicates that a candidate backed last week by Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has surged to the forefront in the battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
According to a Mason-Dixon survey released Sunday, 29 percent of likely GOP primary voters support former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who Palin endorsed in an internet posting last Monday.
The survey indicates 22 percent of those voters are backing former state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, 20 percent supporting former Rep. Nathan Deal, 13 percent supporting former State Sen. Eric Johnson, and 13 percent undecided. Handel's six-point advantage is within the poll's sampling error.
Handel's support is also up six points from a Mason-Dixon poll conducted just a few days earlier, when Oxendine stood at 31 percent and Handel at 23 percent support. The earlier survey was conducted just before and during Palin's endorsement of Handel a week ago. On her Facebook page, the former 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee called Handel a reformer who will "strengthen…families, businesses, state and, ultimately, our United States."
Handel is also up with a campaign commercial that mentions that she's the only female candidate in the contest.
Until the new Mason-Dixon poll, surveys stretching back to last year indicated that Oxendine was the front-runner in the race. The race has turned bitter since Palin's endorsement, with a tough new ad from the Oxendine campaign taking on Handel and the Handel and Deal campaigns accusing each other of playing the gender card.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the two top voter getters will take place on August 10. The current governor of Georgia, Republican Sonny Perdue, has served in the post since 2003 and is prevented by term limits from running for reelection this year.
"It's been clear for awhile that this would be a race to the runoff, and it looks like Palin's endorsement has helped Handel not only get to the runoff but potentially finish first on Tuesday," says Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Palin has a following with in the Republican Party and in a multi-candidate contest she can have impact."
The GOP primary winner will most likely face off against former one-term Gov. Roy Barnes. Polls suggest that Barnes is the favorite to win Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary. Perdue defeated Barnes in the 2002 election, when Barnes was bidding for a second term in office.
The Mason-Dixon poll, which was commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership, was conducted July 15-16, with 400 likely Republican primary voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.
–CNN's Alex Mooney and Steve Brusk contributed to this report
–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn