[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/21/art.handel.file6.handel.jpg caption ="Karen Handel on Wednesday picked up the support of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, CNN has learned."] (CNN) - A day after advancing to Georgia's Republican gubernatorial runoff as the favorite to win the nomination, Karen Handel picked up the support of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, CNN has learned.
"A successful businesswoman and public servant, Karen Handel's blend of executive, political, and business experience is just what Georgia needs at this critical time," Romney said in a statement Wednesday. "The leadership skills that she has honed in both the private and public sectors will enable her to make tough decisions and enact the reforms needed to get the economy back on track and foster job creation."
Handel and Rep. Nathan Deal emerged from a four-way primary battle and will now face off in the Aug. 10 runoff. Handel was boosted in the primary by endorsements from Sarah Palin and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Deal is backed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia's sixth congressional district for two decades.
Romney stayed out of the primary, an aide said, because one of the candidates, state Sen. Eric Johnson, had backed Romney during his 2008 presidential bid.
But Romney has been generous with his money in the Peach State this year. His Free and Strong America political action committee has contributed $39,000 to an eye-popping 42 candidates up and down the Georgia ballot so far in 2010, including Sen. Johnny Isakson and Reps. Phil Gingrey, Lynn Westmoreland, Jack Kingston and Tom Price.
Romney's PAC donated to $1,000 to Handel's campaign on Tuesday.
The eventual GOP nominee will face former Gov. Roy Barnes in the general election.