Georgia Republicans face a ‘no going back’ moment at state meeting

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, center, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (back, left) and U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (back, center) at a rally in Marietta in November. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

Antsy Georgia Republicans gather in Augusta on Friday to kick off their annual meeting under a new strain of electoral duress.

They’ve been at the top of Georgia’s political heap for more than a decade, but Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign has highlighted the GOP’s vulnerabilities in districts once considered Republican strongholds — and underlined the tempestuous effect that President Donald Trump could have on contests.

A tumultuous fight is underway to lead the cash-strapped state party, and its outcome could determine whether the party veers to the right or aims for a more mainstream message. And candidates in the pitched battle for governor and other 2018 races face an early test from grass-roots activists.

It’s a fraught time for Republicans, and many of the hundreds of activists gathering for the two-day event have poured their energy into the vote over the party’s leadership. W. John Wood, the chairman of the Savannah-based 1st Republican District, said the mood is undeniably “anxious.”

“Across the state, you have this feeling where you are in the locker room, lights out trying to stay focused — but you know once you walk out the tunnel there is no going back,” he said. “The party has the resolve, but the real question is who we will follow out of that tunnel.”

The dynamics of the race were set well before Trump’s victory or Ossoff’s emergence as a rising Democratic star. A lawsuit filed by a black former Georgia GOP staffer claiming she was racially discriminated against by party Chairman John Padgett has sapped its coffers and hobbled its leadership.

Republican leaders complain about an ineffective party operation that provides them little help. Contributions have largely dried up, and the Georgia GOP’s balance sheet is mired in red ink. The latest federal filings show the party has $223,000 in the bank — and $317,000 in debts.

The uncertainty that surrounds the Trump presidency, which has seen national approval ratings steadily fall below 50 percent, has further roiled the fight to lead the state party, a contest that features four veteran GOP activists. Each represents a distinct bloc of the GOP, and each pledges to reinvigorate fundraising and restore some of the party’s lost luster.

Read the rest of the story at MyAJC: Georgia GOP faces big questions at state convention


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