ALPHARETTA, Ga. (AP) — In a once reliably Republican Georgia congressional district that has turned into a swing district held by a Democrat, a GOP congressional convention on Saturday showed activists consumed by the unproven belief that Donald Trump had been cheated out of the 2020 presidential election.
"We can't move on," said delegate Rich Kaye, who mounted an unsuccessful challenge for district chair in the 6th Congressional District of suburban Atlanta. "We've got to find out what happened, why it happened and what we are going to do to stop it."
It's unclear if that focus will spark a Republican comeback in a seat that was once the heartland of the state party, a swath of affluent suburbs once represented by Newt Gingrich. Democrats battered down the gate of the GOP bastion when Trump was in office, with Democrat Lucy McBath narrowly winning election in 2018 and then cruising to re-election in 2020.
The 6th was one of 13 congressional conventions that met Saturday in Georgia. The 1st District Convention in Jesup was canceled after organizers said a country club dropped the party's reservation amid concerns about "possible disruptions and protests." That followed an angry county convention in Chatham County, the district's population center, which ended without officers being elected. That dissension threatened to spill over into the district convention. District Chairman Carl Smith told the Savannah Morning News that he did not know of a rescheduled date.
Multiple districts meeting on Saturday condemned incumbent GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan for not doing enough to block Trump's loss of Georgia's 16 electoral votes. At least one district, suburban Atlanta's 7th, also censured Gov. Brian Kemp.
"I wish the GOP would quit fighting each other and put forward a positive agenda," Buzz Brockway, a former candidate for secretary of state, tweeted after a resolution censuring Kemp advanced in the 7th. "Sadly, that's not the prevailing view in the GOP anymore."
Many conventions saw a wave of activists attracted by support for Trump and anguish over his loss.
"There are a lot fewer establishment Republicans and a lot more constitutional conservatives, and that's refreshing, finally," said Paul Maner, a DeKalb County delegate who was also an unsuccessful candidate for chairman. "We need fighters."
Voters in affluent Atlanta suburbs abandoned Republicans and particularly Trump in 2020, aiding President Joe Biden's victory. Blake Harbin, who lost a congressional primary bid in 2020, said an educated electorate is unlikely to vote a straight party ticket and that Republicans need to do more to reach them.
"The Republican Party and conservatism, they're not 100% Trump," Harbin said.
But the energy was still on questioning the elections. State party Chairman David Shafer spoke to 6th District delegates reciting his objections. He took questions, including from multiple delegates who said they believe Georgia's voting machines stole the election, despite no reliable proof. Shafer disagreed, but pinned the blame on another unproven fraud theory, that someone manufactured thousands of improper absentee ballots.
"I believe the election was stolen, but I believe the election was stolen by low-tech absentee ballot fraud around the drop boxes on an industrial scale," said Shafer, who is seeking reelection as party chair at its June state convention.
The conventions were also a preview of 2022 Republican primaries. Both Gov. Brian Kemp and primary challenger Vernon Jones spoke to delegates.
"We cut taxes this year even when President Biden said we couldn't," Kemp said in a restrained speech met with polite applause. He talked about a recent visit to the Mexican border and said he defended Georgia's restrictive new election law, including against criticism by two prominent Georgia companies, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola Co.
"We also stood up to Delta, Coca-Cola and any other cancel culture companies that thought they could bully us around," Kemp said.
Jones, a former Democratic state representative, was more animated. He also touted his loyalty to Trump, blaming disloyalty to the president for not only Trump's loss. but the loss of two U.S. Senate seats — to Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
"Y'all know, cut ran on this president," Jones said. "Y'all know who cut ran on the state."
At least 15 of Georgia's 159 county parties last month censured Kemp for his role in certifying Biden's victory in November.
"The grassroots is still angry at Kemp but the district conventions are usually a little more establishment, and they're going to be less likely to want to fight with the governor publicly," said Debbie Dooley, a longtime national tea party leader who opposes Kemp.
Dooley conceded that Kemp maintains strong supporters, but argued there is enough dissatisfaction to cause Kemp problems in a primary — and certainly in a general election when he couldn't afford to lose any Republicans.
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed from Atlanta.