Ex-Senate powerbroker runs for Georgia GOP chair

Former state Sen. David Shafer entered the race Saturday to lead the Georgia GOP with an urgent plea for unity as Republicans prepare to face energized Democrats in next year's election.

The Republican told activists at a Gwinnett County GOP meeting that he could unite the party’s fractious core of activists, donors and candidates to ensure they’re “pulling in the same direction.” And he nodded to the tide of Democratic victories across the suburbs, including his native Gwinnett.

“In the last election cycle our party was put on the defensive for the first time in nearly two decades,” he said. “It is time to re-tool.”

Shafer is the third leading candidate competing to succeed John Watson, who announced shortly after the midterm he wouldn't run again. Veteran Republican activist Scott Johnson and Bruce Azevedo, a real estate agent who chairs the Ninth District GOP, are also in the race.

A former Georgia GOP executive director, Shafer lost a 1996 bid for secretary of state before winning a 2002 contest to represent his Duluth-based Senate seat. He rose to become the chamber’s president pro tem, one of the most powerful figures in the Capitol.

But his political career was derailed last year when he was defeated by Geoff Duncan in a razor-thin Republican runoff for lieutenant governor.

It was a bruising contest, with Duncan frequently reminding voters that Shafer was accused, and cleared, of sexually harassing a lobbyist. A Senate ethics panel concluded there was a "lack of credible evidence" to support the allegations, and his attorney called them "completely fabricated."

Since then, Shafer has weighed two different options: A bid to fill the 7th District U.S. House seat, soon to be vacated by Rep. Rob Woodall, or a run for the Georgia GOP’s top job. He told activists he opted for the latter because of the growing threat of a Democratic resurgence.

“The Democratic Party we replaced was a center-right party,” he said. “The Democratic Party seeking to replace us is a radical leftist, Marxist party.”