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Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 12:00pm

State GOP To Elect New Leader

This weekend, the Georgia GOP will elect a new chairman when Republicans hold their annual convention in Athens. The party enjoys record support across the state. But demographic changes are afoot that could also shift Georgia politics.

The new chair faces several challenges, including pressure to re-tool the Republican brand and boosting fundraising.

But Georgia’s potential shift from red to blue is the key issue.

By 2020, whites won’t be in the majority. The GOP holds all statewide offices now. But experts say Democrats are gaining support as more black, Asian and Hispanic Georgians register to vote.

Pres. Obama earned 45 percent of Georgia’s vote last year. And Mark Rountree, a Georgia-based Republican strategist, calls that a relatively close call for the GOP.

“While Georgia obviously went for Mitt Romney, it was the second in line actually as dominoes go to potentially go to Obama," he said in an interview. "So only one state fared better for Obama that he did not win.”

Rountree says the state’s conservatives need to back minority candidates.

Julianne Thompson, with the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, agrees. But she says that doesn’t mean straying from core principles.

“We don’t need to change our values. We don’t need to change our platform," she said in an interview. "But we do need to change the way we message people. We do need to change our tone in some circumstances.”

Experts say it remains to be seen which branch of the GOP responds will dominate the convention.

Charles Bullock is a political scientist at the University of Georgia. He says the Tea Party groups tend to lean to the right. And they wield power.

“The Tea Party folks – they’re numerous, they’re active, they like to show up and work on campaigns," he said. "They’ll work either for you or against you, and that’s what gives them some heft.”

Four candidates are running for the chair’s seat: Seth Harp of Columbus, Alex Johnson of Dunwoody; John Padgett of Athens; and B.J. Van Gundy of Peachtree Corners.