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Candidate says rival influenced Columbia County Young Republicans to exclude him from debate

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Georgia gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry said Wednesday a Republican rival used her influence with a local political group to keep him away from a Saturday political forum.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry

"The announcement by the Columbia County Young Republicans that they had made the decision to not invite me to the gubernatorial debate this Saturday in Evans was not a surprise to our campaign," McBerry wrote in an e-mail. "We had already received word that one of my opponents, Karen Handel, had contacted them, asking them to not invite me."

Both Handel's campaign and the Young Republicans denied McBerry's claim.

"That is completely false," said Young Republicans Chairwoman Megan Seda. "The only reason we didn't invite him was because of the allegations made against him, and that another candidate has said they would not go on stage with him."

That candidate is Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state, who announced last week that she would not attend political events where McBerry is present. McBerry calls the allegations, which suggest a relationship years ago with a then-teenage female church member, false. He said a case against him was dismissed by a magistrate judge.

Still, the Young Republicans announced Tuesday that McBerry wouldn't be invited. Seda said the Young Republicans initially invited only "top-tier candidates," which excluded McBerry and state Sen. Jeff Chapman.

"He (McBerry) actually called me yesterday and we had a somewhat confrontational phone call," Seda said Wednesday. "He was upset, saying the Republican Party has to support all candidates. But we're the Young Republicans and he can file a complaint if he wants to."

Young Republicans Vice Chairwoman Sarah Harper Scott said her group has the right to exclude candidates at events they're organizing.

"We feel very strongly that he is not someone we want in this environment," Scott said.

Handel confirmed Wednesday that she will participate in Saturday's 5 p.m. debate at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center in the Columbia County Library.

"We did have a scheduling conflict, but in light of their decision to do the right thing and exclude Mr. McBerry from their debate, we thought the least we could do is come," said Handel spokesman Dan McLagan.

None of the other Republicans in the gubernatorial primary intend to follow Handel's lead. When contacted Wednesday, each of the campaigns said the candidates will participate to the forums they are invited to.

Nathan Deal, through spokesman Brian Robins:

"This young woman's allegations are heartbreaking and repulsive. We have no desire to inject ourselves into her personal tragedy for political purposes. Nathan respects the opinions and decisions of local GOP parties who host these events, and he looks forward to all opportunities to talk to them about his ideas for creating new jobs, cutting waste and creating a better future for Georgia's families."

Eric Johnson, through spokesman Ben Fry:

"What Ray McBerry has been accused of doing is reprehensible and inexcusable.  We would certainly support debate organizers choosing to exclude him from events.  Eric is passionate about this state and his plans to put Georgia back to work and there is nobody that's going to keep him from talking directly to the people of Georgia about his vision for the future.  If others want to use this as an excuse to duck debates and tough questions, that's fine."

Jeff Chapman:

"I'll participate."

"The voters will decide what they believe. My responsibility is to make myself as available as possible to the people of Georgia."

Otis Putnam:

"I've never met Ray McBerry or Karen Handel. ... It's about the people of Georgia and not about his personal issue or hers."

John Oxendine, through spokesman Stephen Puetz:

Oxendine has another event already scheduled and won't be at the Columbia County debate, but he isn't missing it because of Handel's statement.

"John is committed to getting his message about the important issues to Georgia across to voters, and we're not going to have someone else dictate the setting. We will talk about our positive issues on our own terms and not someone else's."

Comments (6) Add comment
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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/06/10 - 07:53 am
These forums are a waste of

These forums are a waste of time. It is best to hear the candidates one on one and not at a meat market on a stage.

Taylor B
Taylor B 05/06/10 - 08:07 am
I know and have worked with

I know and have worked with both Sarah and Megan, and they are the most principled Republicans in town. They have no agenda.

KingJames 05/06/10 - 12:18 pm
Sounds like some people plan

Sounds like some people plan to punish McBerry even though no charges were ever proven. I suppose anything someone says something about a candidate must be true. Allegations are not convictions, especially if the allegations are dismissed. I'm not for or against McBerry, but I think he should be afforded the same opportunity as any other candidate to participate in a forum. At least hear the man before you punish him for something that hasn't been proven. Some people in Georgia have long memories that don't always want to see truth, only scandal.

Chillen 05/06/10 - 12:27 pm
Sounds like Handel is afraid

Sounds like Handel is afraid of a little competition.

If she refused to go on stage with one of the candidates then she should have been told to stay home. The CC Young Republicans were wrong. He is a republican candidate & should have been allowed to participate in a republican debate.

BTW I know nothing about him & don't support him or anyone else. Just looking at this objectively. But this did help me make one decision, Handel just lost my vote.

4founders 05/06/10 - 02:22 pm
There's no point in attending

There's no point in attending the debate without McBerry. He's the only one who even cares about the Constitution, let alone understands what it means to Georgians. Everyone else spouts the same old same-old, just trying to get votes. McBerry has answered these unfounded allegations in no uncertain terms and does not deserve to be treated as a pariah. For shame, Columbia County Young Republicans! You've been taking lessons from the GOP!

southern2 05/06/10 - 09:40 pm
I will vote Demo before

I will vote Demo before Handel.

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