ATLANTA (AP) -- Sarah Palin forcefully defended the only woman fighting for the Republican nomination for Georgia's open Senate seat and hit back Thursday against a rival's apparent dismissal of Karen Handel's high school education. Meanwhile, another candidate, Democrat Michelle Nunn, was rolling out her first campaign ad.
David Perdue, the former Dollar General CEO, said that "there's a high school graduate in this race, OK? I'm sorry but these issues are so much broader, so complex" as he talked about the economy and the federal deficit during a January meeting captured on video.
Appearing at a county women's group Thursday, Palin said Perdue's comments were disappointing and praised Handel's ability to overcome the struggles of her youth. Handel, a former secretary of state, has said she left an abusive home as a teen, using a message of overcoming obstacles as a key element of her campaigns.
"She pulled herself up. Nothing was handed to her on a platter, fed to her on a silver spoon," Palin said of Handel. "For those who would criticize and mock that, it really makes me question their judgment."
Handel also touched on Perdue's comments, earning huge applause from the largely female crowd at a restaurant south of downtown Atlanta.
"Some in this race think the problems in Washington are a little too complex for a gal like me," Handel said. "I'm here to tell you that solving the problems in Washington is going to take guts and resolve."
Handel's campaign manager earlier had called Perdue's comments demeaning and said Handel has shown "great perseverance and sheer will" in overcoming the challenges of her youth. Palin endorsed Handel last week, and Handel's campaign said it has raised more than $100,000 since then.
At the same time, Democratic Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn released her first campaign ad, "Optimist," which touts her work with the Points of Light Foundation. In the spot, Nunn mentions Republican President George H.W. Bush by name, a reflection of Nunn's hope of appealing to the state's independent voters who have backed Republicans in recent years.
Georgia's crowded primary is May 20, with Handel one of seven GOP candidates and Nunn one of four Democrats seeking the parties' nominations.
Besides Perdue and Handel, the GOP field includes Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, as well as Art Gardner and Derrick Grayson.
On the Democratic side, Nunn is competing against Democrats Steen Miles, Branko "Rad" Radulovacki and Todd Anthony Robinson.
This is Palin's second endorsement of Handel; the first came during Handel's unsuccessful 2010 bid for governor.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the video in which Perdue appeared to dismiss Handel's education.
(AccessNorthGa.com's Ken Stanford contributed to this report.)