Sixth District becomes an edgy topic in race for Georgia GOP chair

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Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel. AP image.

More on this to come later, but the four men running for chairman of the Georgia Republican party debated before the Gwinnett County GOP on Monday night.

Duluth lies well outside the Sixth District, where Republican Karen Handel is locked in a surprisingly tight and very expensive runoff to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Price in Congress.

Super PACs are playing in the contest. So is the National Republican Congressional Committee. But the state GOP, crippled by a racial discrimination lawsuit and a resulting lack of cash, has been far more limited in its ability to give Handel a hand.

The next chairman of the Georgia GOP will be elected at the party’s convention on June 3, just over two weeks before the June 20 runoff in the Sixth District.

The race was a hot topic of conversation in the struggling shopping mall where the Gwinnett GOP has its headquarters. Alex Johnson, a DeKalb County attorney making a third bid to lead the state party, was the most critical. Said Johnson:

“We should never have been in this situation that we’re currently in. The Democrats have a huge number of people door-knocking. Why, three have come by my house alone.

“We need to make sure the state Republican party already has tons of people around the state – thousands upon thousands who can be touched with a text message, saying how to get them involved in a race like the Sixth District.

 

“So we’re not in a situation like we’re currently in, where turnout is scary because we don’t have enough volunteers and resources to make it happen.”

John Watson, a former chief of staff for Gov. Sonny Perdue who is now a lobbyist, cited the race as a call to arms:

“We are financially broke, the state party is mismanaged, and the Democrats are on the march, and trying to achieve victory by stealing from us what we’ve worked so hard for over the past 15 years.”

Michael McNeely, currently the first vice chair of the state party, would be the first African-American elected to the chairmanship. Said McNeely:

“One of the things that’s happened in our party – there’s been a breakdown in the relationships between the party and its elected officials and candidates. In a race like this, we need to go to the candidate and find out what that candidate needs.”

Mike Welsh, former chairman of the 12th District GOP, cited his role – several times during the debate — in bringing down John Barrow, the last white Democratic member of Congress from Georgia. It’s a situation that Democrat Jon Ossoff would rectify if he wins next month.

Asked what he would do to help Handel, Welsh replied:

“I’d be doing the same thing I did in knocking off John Barrow. The very first thing you have to do is understand what’s going on so far, and get with the candidate. Because the candidate has a plan. The candidate has a message. The candidate is the candidate. Not the party.”

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If you want proof that the long rift between Gov. Nathan Deal and Karen Handel is over, mostly, take a look at this invite to a meet-and-greet at the home of John Garst, a longtime Handel loyalist.

Deal’s name isn’t on there. But down toward the bottom, you’ll see the name of Brian Robinson, who was Deal’s spokesman in office and during that bitter 2010 GOP runoff for governor:

It might be time to dust off some of those old press releases. If you’ll look more closely, you’ll see the name of only one candidate for chairman of the Georgia GOP on the list as well: John Watson.

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Secretary of State Brian Kemp kicked off his campaign with a “Georgia First” message that sounded a lot like a certain president’s immigration stance. He followed it up this week with another tack toward the right on immigration.

In a statement on Monday, the Republican gubernatorial candidate said he supported a new Texas law that bans sanctuary cities:

“As governor, our state will respect the rule of law and put the well being of Georgians – not illegal immigrants – first. Like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, I will fight radical, left-wing organizations and activists who are more concerned with advancing their agenda than keeping citizens and communities safe.”

Kemp had earlier praised Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign legislation that would restrict so-called sanctuary campuses from receiving state funding.

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State Sen. Burt Jones is not running for lieutenant governor or any other higher office, and he’s endorsing his Republican colleague David Shafer’s bid for the state’s No. 2 job.

Jones said in a Monday statement that he’s fine – for now – serving in the state Senate because he’s “able to remain active in my growing business and daily family life and activities.”

The former Georgia football captain and heir to Jones Petroleum Co. would have been a formidable GOP candidate, able to leverage plenty of personal wealth in a run for higher office.

His decision means that Shafer has dodged another bullet in his bid to replace Casey Cagle as lieutenant governor. Although there were weeks of rumbling from other Senate Republicans that they might challenge Shafer, none have yet emerged.

That means Shafer’s main GOP opponent remains state Rep. Geoff Duncan of Cumming, the former pro baseball player who announced in April. Cagle, of course, is running for governor.

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A conservative watchdog group sued the U.S. Justice Department on Monday for the emails of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Judicial Watch said it filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for Yates’ government emails from the eventful 10-day period in January during which she was the caretaker attorney general. Said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton :

“Between her involvements in the Russian surveillance scandal and her lawless effort to thwart President Trump’s immigration executive order, Sally Yates short tenure as the acting Attorney General was remarkably troubling. Her email traffic might provide a window into how the anti-Trump ‘deep state’ abused the Justice Department.”

Read more about Yates’ Senate testimony here.

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Republican David Abroms, who scored toward the bottom in an 18-field of candidates for the Sixth District on April 18, has written a critique of his experience, slamming the national media and outside donors — Republicans and Democrats — for focusing on a Donald Trump narrative in the race. Here’s a snippet of his piece:

For everyone that is upset with the president – and for the record I did not support either major party candidate – this was the way to show their frustration, with no care for what was best for GA-6 or Congress’ authority under the Constitution. Those of you from outside Georgia that donated $8.3 million and drove from all over the country to meddle in our elections, YOU made Trump more powerful. You turned this election into a referendum on Trump, not us.

 

Every article, every discussion, every pundit’s commentary, focused only on what a victory for Ossoff would mean for the president. I never knew Rachel Maddow cared so deeply for the people of Sandy Springs, or Dunwoody, or Johns Creek. What were Ossoff’s positions? What were the other Republicans’ positions? Does anyone care?

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Our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett reports that Sam Olens, the former attorney general who now leads Kennesaw State University,  keynote remarks at the Cobb Community Foundation luncheon.

“I’m going to be politically incorrect, as I usually am, so just get used to it,” Olens said at the beginning of his address. “I’m not on a ballot .. thank God.”

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Obama administration alumni are planning to hold a conference in Atlanta this September aimed at engaging women and girls in political and leadership roles.

Backed by former top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, the group called the United State of Women will hold six local events across the country to provide coaching for potential political candidates, grassroots organizing and entrepreneurship and leadership training for women.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams — who has filed the paperwork to run for governor in 2018 — is chair of the Atlanta program. U.S. Rep. John Lewis is signed on as an honorary co-chair.


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