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Greg Bluestein

Atlanta operative seeks to be Georgia GOP’s first black leader

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Georgia GOP vice chair Michael McNeely

Georgia GOP vice chair Michael McNeely

Republican operative Michael McNeely said Friday he will run to be chairman of the Georgia GOP, formally launching his bid to become the state party’s first black leader.

McNeely is now the vice-chair of the Georgia GOP and a top surrogate for Donald Trump and other Republican candidates on November’s ballot. He’s long been rumored to seek the post, which will be decided in a 2017 vote, and said in a statement he “wanted to put the question to rest.”

“I believe I have a good understanding of the needs of our party and solid ideas for laying out a strong vision,” said McNeely, adding that his focus is now on November’s votes. “Once we are celebrating victory, I’ll be ready to start the conversation about the future of our party.”

McNeely, 44, would bring a different voice to a party that has long struggled to attract black voters and combat the shifting demographics that Georgia Democrats say will inevitably restore them to power. He and the other contenders for the seat must also grapple with financial and legal issues that have weakened the state party.

Current party chair John Padgett, who has said he will not seek another two-year term, presided over the GOP’s sweep of every statewide office and an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014.

But the party has also struggled with the fallout of an embarrassing lawsuit filed by a black former Georgia GOP staffer claiming that the organization’s employees humiliated her and referred to her with a racial slur. The party has denied her claims and the case is still pending. Padgett was also recently targeted with a complaint claiming he has reneged on more than $340,000 in outstanding legal fees owed to his former law firm in the case.

The legal issues have complicated the party’s fundraising. The Georgia GOP is mired in debt and the party’s ledgers remain a fraction of what they were just a few election cycles ago.

McNeely is among a handful of likely contenders for the seat. DeKalb attorney Alex Johnson, grassroots organizer Scott Johnson, tea party guru Julianne Thompson and former talk show host Martha Zoller are among the names of other possible candidates floating around.

Here is McNeely’s full statement:

I have been asked several times this week whether I intend to run for chairman of the Georgia GOP. I’m not one to be coy about something that important, so I wanted to put the question to rest. I believe I have a good understanding of the needs of our party and solid ideas for laying out a strong vision. For those reasons I do plan to run for Chairman in 2017. That said, I believe the focus should remain on getting Republicans elected at all levels in November, and that will be my relentless focus all the way through Election Day. Once we’re celebrating victory, I’ll be ready to start the conversation about the future of our party.”