ATLANTA — The head of Georgia’s Republican Party on Thursday said she will have to work hard to maintain grass-roots momentum among voters after most of the GOP presidential field pulled out of a scheduled debate in Atlanta ahead of Super Tuesday.
Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart said she was “very disappointed” after CNN announced it was canceling the March 1 debate when Mitt Romney and Ron Paul declined to participate. In a statement Thursday, she wished the candidates luck moving forward before issuing a warning.
“I trust that our party’s eventual nominee will not overlook Georgia’s two-million-plus Republican voters before the general election,” the statement reads.
Everhart said GOP voters in the state are “not going to be happy,” and this development could have an effect on enthusiasm in the weeks and months ahead.
“We’re a red state, but we barely squeaked through to beat (then-candidate Barack) Obama in 2008,” she said. “I was hoping to do a lot better this time. I’ve still got to keep my people energized.”
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the former Massachusetts governor “will be spending a lot of time campaigning in Georgia and Ohio” ahead of the March 6 presidential primary, when voters in nine states will cast ballots.
“With eight other states voting on March 6, we will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate,” Saul said, noting that Romney has participated in 20 debates already.
Rick Santorum also signaled that he would not likely participate without all four candidates on the stage. Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker who hails from Georgia, was committed to participating.
“It’s an insult to the people of Georgia,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said. “They’re saying ‘I’m good enough to vote for, but too good to come to your debate.’ ”
The turn of events seemed a setback for Georgia’s GOP. Everhart said she had been working on the debate for six months and was also coordinating other events to raise money for the state party.
Both Santorum and Gingrich will be campaigning in Georgia this weekend, and Romney headlined a rally in the state last week. Paul won a state Republican Party straw poll last summer.