By Martha Zoller
This weekend, the GOP faithful in Georgia went to Macon for their biennial convention. There was drama, a hotly contested chairman’s race. But there was also anticipation, the anticipation maybe the next GOP presidential nominee will be a Georgian.
The main event was the campaign for the GOP chairmanship of Georgia. For the first time in most anyone’s memory, there were three top candidates in the race. When Democrats held all the power in Georgia, the Governor, for all intents and purposes, appointed the head of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
When Republicans started running things by electing the first Republican Governor in 135 years, then Governor Sonny Perdue thought about trying to appoint his choice, but saw the strength of the grassroots of the Party and decided that was a battle he didn’t want to have. While he was the Governor, the grassroots elected the first woman chair of the Georgia Republican Party, Sue Everhart.
Along the way to the election of the second Republican Governor, former Congressman Nathan Deal, there was fallout between his campaign and Chairman Everhart. That led to the grassroots supporting Sue Everhart for her third and final term and Governor Deal’s team supporting newcomer Tricia Pridemore. Shawn Hanley, former Marine and Chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, threw his hat in the ring and made for a real three ring circus.
The result was a bigger divide between the Grassroots and the power brokers. Most of the elected officials of Georgia were openly supporting Tricia Pridemore or remaining neutral. Most of the traditional Grassroots and Tea Party folks were supporting Sue Everhart. When Governor Deal made his speech to the convention on Saturday and expressed his appreciation to Sue but he was supporting Tricia, he was met with sustained booing from the audience and had to close with the promise that he’s work with whomever the convention elected.
Everhart was re-elected on the second ballot and Pridemore gave a gracious concession speech. If these folks really want what’s best for the party, then they should now work together. But politics is not always logical. It had been a long day with little access to food and the grassroots were getting cranky.
The high points of the convention were the speeches of presidential candidates and Georgians, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and businessman and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain. Newt got into the race last week and I have never seen him so passionate. There is something in his voice that is different. He’s doing what he’s been training to do all his life and he likes it. Herman Cain was the darling of the Tea Party and Fairtax movement as well as one of the strongest voices coming out of the South Carolina GOP/Fox News Channel GOP presidential debate a couple of weeks ago.
It’s not fair to the compare the two speeches. Newt spoke to a dinner on Friday night to a seated group of people who paid extra for the opportunity to hear him. Herman spoke to the morning session of the convention of 2500+ delegates, alternates and guests . Newt was a professor and Herman was a preacher, but the message was the same. Make President Obama a one-term president.
There were many people wearing Newt 2012 stickers, buttons and hats and many people wearing Herman Cain stickers, buttons and hats. The messages were clear and we were proud to have two people representing Georgia. Both men are considered long shots.
Has Newt been at it too long and missed his moment. I don’t think so. He’s spent his life in politics. As an elected official, he was one of the few that actually delivered on promises made to the electorate. In his career since then, he’s championed ideas and created movements around energy policy, education and health care initiatives. He’s traveled around the country talking education with Al Sharpton as well as appeared in a “global warming” commercial with Nancy Pelosi. However, he also organized the best and most memorable energy slogan in recent times, “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less.” He is a man of issues and ideas and can get things done.
The buzz on the floor of the convention among those who don’t support him was he’s “unelectable” because of his baggage. I’m not concerned about his baggage. He’s dealt with it in his family and by all accounts he’s a devoted husband, father and grandfather and has “come to Jesus” through Catholicism. I’ve seen it in him and believe it. He’s a friend and I believe in redemption. I want someone who can make things happen. Newt can do that.
Herman Cain wowed the convention with a fiery speech that got people on their feet. When I asked Newt Gingrich about Herman Cain on my program last Thursday, he said he wanted Herman to be successful and that they were friends that go way back, but he didn’t want him to be that successful since they were both no running for the Republican nomination for President. Did not get to ask Cain the same question, but I assume I would get a similar answer.
The same buzz says that Cain is unelectable. He’s too much like a preacher and “too regional.” However, he’s a proven businessman, a radio talk show host and a man who has served on many boards throughout his career. He is a self-made man in every since of the word with no skeletons in his closet. Herman filled in for me on my radio program right after his failed U. S. Senate run in 2004, so we are very close also.
And therein lies the dilemma in Georgia. We know these men and like them, for the most part.
As a Georgian and a conservative, I’m waiting for the good choice who will wipe out the memory of Jimmy Carter. He was the worst thing to come out of Georgia politics in a long time and he’s the gift that keeps on giving, or taking, depending on your perspective. Republicans are excited on the prospect of having two “native sons” competing for the nominations. One staffer for a Congressman said it best, “I’m for Team Georgia. I don’t have to decide right now.”