ATLANTA --- Ask leaders of the Georgia Republican and Democratic parties what they plan to talk about leading up to this year's elections, and they're likely to tick off a routine list: jobs, health care, education, the fight against terrorism.
Perhaps just as likely to be an issue, though, are the fissures beginning to show in the three-year-old GOP majority as legislative and statewide candidates head to Atlanta this week to qualify for office. One U.S. Senate seat, 13 congressional seats and the 236 state legislative positions are up for grabs during this presidential election year.
Already, the parties are trying to draw the battle lines in a way that positions them best in November. And Democrats are preparing to use the internal dynamics of the reigning Republican Party against the GOP.
"The Republicans, especially in Georgia, are pretty good at getting elected. But they're not so good at governing," said Martin Matheny, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, battled throughout the legislative session over tax reform, transportation funding and legislative overrides of vetoes Mr. Perdue issued last year. The session ended with Mr. Richardson calling for a new lieutenant governor and Mr. Cagle calling the speaker a bully.
The fighting has even prompted speculation at the Capitol that Republicans from different camps might sponsor primary challengers to members of rival factions.
"That would be something different in Georgia," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
House Majority Leader Jerry Keen downplayed the notion that the GOP could turn against itself in the primaries.
Even so, the fight will factor into the fall campaigns as Democrats try to paint a picture of a do-nothing Legislature where the GOP personal battles stymied critical legislation.
"There's a lot of frustration and a lot of downright anger at the way the Republicans kind of forgot that they're supposed to be public servants," Mr. Matheny said.
But Ben Fry, the executive director of the state GOP, ticked off GOP accomplishments: Pushing through a state water policy; passing education legislation; making it easier to open new medical facilities in the state; and setting aside almost $59 million for financially struggling trauma care hospitals, which handle the most severely injured patients.
"I think the voters are going to look at the end results, to be honest with you," he said.
Mr. Bullock said it's unlikely the public knows the specifics of the fights among Mr. Richardson, Mr. Cagle and Mr. Perdue. But, "They probably were not impressed by the fact that there were problems."
Central to any argument about the effectiveness of the General Assembly will be the failure to pass tax reform. Mr. Richardson spent much of 2007 campaigning for a plan to provide some form of property tax relief -- bringing to the forefront an issue that might have otherwise remained dormant and could create a problem for the GOP now that there are no results.
"In a sense, Republicans will have been hoisted on their own petard" if the tax issue harms the party, Mr. Bullock said.
Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709 or email@example.com.