MACON, Ga. - Gov. Nathan Deal was booed loudly by Republican loyalists at the state party convention as he endorsed his pick for party chairman.
Speaking in front of several thousand party delegates, Deal voiced his support for Tricia Pridemore, saying the 39-year-old former businesswoman and GOP activist could broaden the state party's base.
The hall erupted in sustained boos, mixed with some cheers. Deal was forced to speak over the noise and wrapped up quickly.
"I will respect your judgment," Deal told the delegates before leaving the stage.
The race for party chair has fractured the Georgia GOP, which has been on something of a high after last year's Republican sweep in the state.
Incumbent chair Sue Everhart is seeking a third, two-year term. She was at the helm last year as Republicans claimed every statewide office in Georgia. Pridemore, a Deal campaign volunteer, ran at the governor's urging. She has argued the party needs to increase its use of online and social media and do more outreach with minority groups.
Fulton County Republican Party Chairman Shawn Hanley also is running for the post.
Some in the party took a dim view of Pridemore's candidacy, saying the 65-year-old Everhart deserved credit for historic wins last November. Everhart loyalists also saw Deal's involvement as a power grab, an effort to strip the party's independence and make it an extension of the governor's office heading into a busy presidential election season.
Deal is backing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the race for the Republican nomination for president.
Following his speech Saturday, Deal told reporters it was "only appropriate" to speak up for Pridemore after encouraging her to run.
"You can't very well not back up people you support," Deal said.
"She was an important part of my campaign team, I came to know her. I came to trust her."