You’re the ruling party in Georgia, and you’re at the height of your power. There’s not a statewide politician left standing with a “D” next to his name.
So how do you celebrate?
With a five-month, three-way battle for leadership of the state Republican party that — at its worse — could pit some of Georgia’s most powerful political figures against each other. And throw a wrench into preparations aimed at beating back a second surge of Barack Obama voters in 2012.
The main question is whether a Republican governor of Georgia should be allowed to choose the chairman of the state GOP. That’s how Democrats did it for a century and more.
But among Republicans, such top-down style is still open to debate.
They have pages of arcane rules that say the chairman of the state party — which now controls millions upon millions of dollars in campaign contributions — shall be elected in a series of meetings that begin at the precinct level every other February.
Even so, Gov. Nathan Deal has settled on Tricia Pridemore, a 39-year-old businesswoman and campaign volunteer from Marietta who until recently was the state director for Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project.
“She played a huge role in his campaign, and she did a phenomenal job as co-chair of his inaugural team, despite hurdles we faced with the weather,” said Deal spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield. “He has 100 percent confidence in her ability.”
Said Pridemore on Wednesday: “I believe it’s time for a fresh perspective at the state party.”
The problem is that state GOP Chairman Sue Everhart, who counts U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson as a close friend, isn’t ready to leave. Pointing to the party’s winning streak, the 65-year-old former banker from Cobb County wants a third two-year term.
Everhart won the job in 2007 — the first woman elected — by bucking Gov. Sonny Perdue. In the face of a grassroots uprising organized by Everhart, the governor eventually conceded defeat. She is ready to do it again.
“The reason we’re successful is the Georgia Republican party has been run from the bottom up,” Everhart said. “I support [Deal] wholeheartedly, and I’m glad we elected him. But I’m running for chairman.”
The third candidate is Shawn Hanley, a health-care consultant and former Marine who is also chairman of the Fulton County GOP. He was in the race first — and has, like Everhart, refused to clear a path for the new governor.
“I’m following the rules that have been set for many, many years,” said Hanley, who wants to concentrate on upgrading the party’s use of technology — and its outreach to minorities.
The success of the last election has covered up lurking Republican weaknesses, he said. “When you win under a tea party express, it’s hard to see where your shortcomings are as an organization.”
This is a fight that almost didn’t happen. Negotiations between Everhart and the governor-elect for another position broke down in early December. Details remain murky.
Pridemore formally announced last week, after her duties as co-chair of Deal’s weather-beaten inauguration were completed. At least two members of Georgia’s congressional delegation appear to be backing the governor’s choice.
On a list of core supporters for Pridemore, released Wednesday, was Phyllis Gingrey Collins, daughter of U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta. U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County, has reportedly been phoning county GOP chairmen on behalf of Pridemore.
Everhart says she’ll wait until after the current session of the Legislature ends before rolling out her list of top supporters. No state lawmaker wants to incur a governor’s wrath when there are bills to be signed and line items to veto.
The final vote for chairman will take place in May at the state GOP convention in Macon. Two factors could weigh heavily in the contest, expected to cost each candidate tens of thousands of dollars.
This round of voting will be the first to incorporate newcomers drawn into Georgia’s political process by the tea party movement.
All three candidates are pursuing them, but Pridemore may have the edge, because of her connection to the 9/12 Project. But Beck’s reputation for volatility as a Fox News commentator may worry GOP traditionalists. Although Pridemore says it shouldn’t.
“Glenn Beck has very little to do with the daily functioning of the 9/12 project. That’s for sure,” Pridemore said. “But if those folks are interested in principles and values in candidates, then they’re a 9/12-er.”
Another issue likely to come up: Everhart’s 2009 support for Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee — who was deposed this week. Everhart withdrew her support from Steele months ago and supported the winner, Reince Priebus.
Even so, she’s ready to defend herself. “I voted [in 2009] like Georgia asked me to vote,” she said.
Much is on the line with this year’s contest for state GOP chairman. A new governor’s reputation, for one thing. But also, perhaps, the future of the party and its chairmanship.
State party organizations, whether Democratic or Republican, now act primarily as way-stations for cash that flows from Washington.
One Republican we chatted with noted that campaign finance law has changed a great deal in the last two election cycles. When, in Washington, Steele ran afoul of Republican party regulars, those changes allowed top GOP players to create parallel organizations that drew contributions and clout away from the RNC.
The same could happen here. Which means Republican grassroots may face a difficult decision — let the governor have his choice, as Democrats learned to do, or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider