News Column

Georgia GOP Preaches Minority Outreach

May 20 2013 10:02AM
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Georgia Republicans hold every statewide office, big majorities under the Gold Dome, both U.S. Senate seats and nine of 14 Congressional seats.

On Saturday Gov. Nathan Deal reminded his party why its good times might not last.

Speaking to the mostly white delegates to the Georgia Republican Party State Convention, Deal delivered a bevy of statistics about the state's rising minority populations. The most "shocking," he said, was this: 56 percent of Georgia public school students are nonwhite.

"If you want to know what the future electorate of Georgia looks like, look at those who are in the schools right now," Deal said. "And if we do not recognize that and if we don't reach out to them, then shame on us."

Democrats have held the votes of blacks, Latinos and Asians in overwhelming numbers. The Georgia GOP's struggle mirrors the national party's, particularly in courting rising Latino populations.

Karl Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush, told the crowd his home state of Texas offers an instructive lesson in how to accomplish that task.

"We've got to get candidates who represent the diversity of our country," Rove said. "Look, in Texas we get 40 percent of the Latino vote on average. And that's because every Republican is comfortable campaigning everywhere in Texas and because we go out of our way to recruit qualified Latino candidates and run them for office."

A black attorney and former Hall County Commissioner, Ashley Bell, said Deal set the proper tone, but it takes showing up in minority churches and at community events to win votes.

"No one here will tell you that there's really been a great effort to look outward," Bell said.

The tea party is vowing to get into the outreach act, too, though its aims and the Republican Party's do not entirely align.

"Watching the (Republican National Committee's) ground game on a national level versus the Democrats and (President Barack) Obama's ground game was like watching mall cops battle Navy SEALs," said Debbie Dooley of the Tea Party Patriots.

Dooley announced Friday that tea party groups statewide are joining with Georgia Right to Life, Georgia Carry, Georgia Fair Tax and the Republican Liberty Caucus to form a new group aimed at targeting, surveying and turning out voters friendly to the conservative grassroots cause.

These folks do not like Rove, though they chose a silent protest instead of a disruption when he spoke. Many delegates wore stickers saying "Beware of the RINO" -- Republican In Name Only. Rove has vowed to use his deep-pocketed Crossroads groups to influence Republican Senate primaries on behalf of candidates better suited for a general election; many grassroots Republicans think he will tip the scales for dreaded moderates.

There will be plenty of chances to test the respective might of the party's wings in 2014, from the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Saxby Chambliss on down through the domino-effect open seats in Congress and the state Legislature caused by his move.

Randy Evans, who chaired the convention, said the struggle is nothing new.

"I was here in the Pat Robertson years," Evans said. "I was here in the Ron Paul years. I was here when Newt (Gingrich) was an outsider and then became an insider, and so I think that's just part of the growing process. And the key is to constantly absorb new groups and new ideas while remaining true to the basics of the party."

The four declared Senate candidates all addressed the convention Saturday, pledging their fealty to conservative values from gun rights to low taxes.

"Now is the time to stand on principle," declared U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta.

U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston of Savannah and Paul Broun of Athens have been the main sparring partners early in the race, and each alluded to the other in his speech.

"Do you want a senator who has requested millions of dollars in earmarks?" Broun asked to a rousing "no" from the crowd, a reference to Kingston's work securing federal money for projects in his district before Congress banned the practice.

Kingston's pitch is that, through his leadership on the Appropriations Committee, he has gotten things done.

"Many in this race talk about proposed cuts, but as chairman of the agriculture (appropriations subcommittee) I've passed cuts," Kingston said.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel emphasized that she is the only declared candidate who is not already in Congress.

"We need less Washington in Washington," Handel said.

The Senate primary election is still 14 months and countless intraparty attacks away. Deal, who could face a primary challenge of his own from Dalton Mayor David Pennington, expressed concern that things could get ugly.

"Competitive primaries, they may be exciting and energizing," Deal said, "but we in Georgia cannot become the Hatfields and McCoys of the political world, killing off our own before they ever get out of a primary."

Source: (c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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