ATHENS, Ga. — As the state GOP convention came to order Friday, a small group of tea party and other activists stood outside to announce a large-scale voter outreach effort this year in part because they feel they can’t depend on national Republicans to win elections.
While the convention message has been one of unity, party divisions are also on display.
Tea party activist Debbie Dooley passed out stickers warning of “Republicans in name only” and called it a message to GOP strategist Karl Rove, who will address the convention today. Activists say they’re concerned by Rove’s plans to run ads for Republicans his group views as capable of winning a general election, calling it
unnecessary interference in the primary process.
“Electability is important. But people said Ronald Reagan couldn’t get elected and he did,” Dooley said.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who is running for Congress in Georgia’s 11th District, said he’s optimistic the GOP will stay united and dismissed the electability argument as nothing new. He said Rove, however, might not be the best person to be offering advice.
“If you say we’re going to define electability up here at the national level, you’re probably not going to be very successful,” Barr said.
BJ Van Gundy, a longtime GOP activist running for state chairman, agreed: “By having campaigns, the voters decide.”
Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will also address the convention today, and delegates will debate various resolutions. A lively debate is expected over an effort to seek a halt to implementation of the Common Core academic standards. The standards are opposed by tea party and conservative groups who say they amount to federal intrusion and threaten student privacy.
The governor sought to defuse any infighting earlier in the week by issuing an executive order prohibiting the state from collecting certain information on students and their families, including religious and political affiliation and voting history, although that data was not currently being collected.
The voter outreach effort announced Friday includes partnering with other organizations including Georgia Right To Life, Georgia Fair Tax, Republican Liberty Caucus and Georgia Carry. The $400,000 project will focus on organizing to the precinct level, reaching out to voters with door-to-door surveys and voter education. Dooley said the effort will focus on issues that voters care about and hopes to engage 1,000 volunteers by the 2014 election.
“Watching the Republican National Committee ground game on a national level in 2012 was like watching mall cops battle Navy SEALs,” Dooley said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure we have educated and informed voters dominating the primary and general elections.”