Instead of celebrating their campaign victories, many local Republicans spent Tuesday night mourning the unexpected loss of U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell.
Mr. Coverdell died Tuesday evening, a day after undergoing brain surgery at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital. He was 61.
"It just takes away whatever joy we might've had tonight," state Rep. Robin Williams said. "I've known him since 1984. I was his campaign chairman for six years. I was with him two weeks ago ..."
Mr. Coverdell checked into the hospital Saturday night complaining of severe headaches. Tests found a hemorrhage in the temporal lobe of his brain. The senator underwent surgery Monday.
Mr. Williams said he was devastated. He said he planned to go today to see Nancy Coverdell, the senator's widow, and comfort her. "I just want to make sure she's OK and the family's OK," he said.
Sen. Coverdell's loss is a great one, not for just the Republican Party but also for Georgia, Rep. Ben Harbin said.
"It's tempered our election victory," Mr. Harbin said. "Senator Coverdell was a good man who kept the interest of this state and this country in his heart, and we're going to miss him a lot. I've had a knot in my stomach ever since I heard the news. I remember working for him when he first ran for senator, supporting for him early on and working for him in November. It has really taken a lot out of what should be a joyful time for our campaign. We've lost a good man."
Augusta Mayor Bob Young called Mr. Coverdell a "true friend of Augusta."
"He had a unique understanding of local issues and worked tirelessly on behalf of our citizens," he said. "I counted the senator among my political mentors, as he was to so many other public officials in Georgia.
"Senator Coverdell was the father of the modern Republican Party in Georgia," Mr. Young said. "He was a champion of the party and played a major role in building an organization that has continued to grow.
"Paul Coverdell will be remembered for a lot of things, but I would say his character and his loyal and faithful service to the people of Georgia are the benchmark of his service. Georgia has lost a statesman. I have lost a friend," he said.
Mike Popplewell, who ran for the state Senate District 24 seat, called Sen. Coverdell's passing "a real tragedy.
"Not just for the party, but for the state of Georgia. I would be interested in who the governor appoints, because Sen. Coverdell had an agenda and I would want to see that agenda continued," he said.
Alvin Starks, chairman of the Columbia County Republican Party, said the idea of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes appointing a temporary replacement for Sen. Coverdell is "a frightening thing for us."
"We do have great concern that King Gov. Barnes is in place to make an appointment. Hopefully, the governor will put partisan politics aside and put what's in the best interest of the state first," Mr. Starks said. "It will be a first for him, but hopefully he will be wise in that respect."
David Barbee, the chairman of the Richmond County Republican Party, said Sen. Coverdell would not have wanted a long mourning, just a pause to thank him for what he's done for the state.
Fighting back tears, Mr. Barbee said the senator's untimely passing is bittersweet. "The Republican party goes on. We've lost a great leader and a great friend," he said.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.