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Greg Bluestein

Nathan Deal’s ‘religious liberty’ veto targeted at Cleveland GOP meeting

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AJC graphic.

AJC graphic.

Cleveland – Gov. Nathan Deal headed back for Atlanta Tuesday after a criminal justice panel and a trip to the convention floor. He’s probably glad he didn’t stay for Wednesday’s breakfast with Georgia’s GOP delegation to the RNC.

The day’s pep talk featured a talk from David and Jason Benham, twins who have built a media empire on the evangelical circuit. And they opened their talk to Georgia’s slate with an attack on the governor’s veto of “religious liberty” legislation that was beloved by blocs of the party’s conservative base.

“We saw what happened in Georgia, and how he caved on this religious liberty bill,” said David Benham, as applause echoed through the hotel ballroom. “My flesh just wants to jump all over him, but I’m looking at pastors – they need to get behind these governors, these sponsors, so they don’t collapse.

He added: “He just got absolutely bullied … they developed this story, they mobilized this platform and they implemented this rule for radicals. And I’m telling you, your governor just collapsed.”

The governor infuriated many in the Republican base when he vetoed the measure, which would have expanded legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage. The veto came after threats of boycotts and other economic m

David and Jason Benham. Handout.

David and Jason Benham. Handout.

isery from corporate heavyweights and gay rights groups.

It’s also strained ties between the governor and the Georgia GOP. He didn’t attend the party’s state convention, citing a long-planned two-day meeting with high school valedictorians, and was rebuked for his veto by grassroots Republicans at meetings across the state.

After their address, Georgia GOP chair John Padgett urged the crowd to take heart in their message of faith– but not to dwell on their criticism of Deal. He said their message was for pastors and activists to get behind Deal to provide grassroots support so he wouldn’t feel isolated if he signs it into law.

“The Benhams criticized the governor here, but that’s not the story,” he said. “It was a great message.”

Jason Benham urged the supporters of the measure to remember the story of David and Goliath.

“When you do something courageous, boldness precedes the miraculous,” he said. “How does the story end with David? One shot – and the giant is dead.”

One of the first people to embrace the twins when they finished speaking: State Sen. Josh McKoon, the measure’s sponsor and a delegate.