The Gwinnett Republican Party headquarters, a repurposed suite inside Gwinnett Place Mall, was bustling Saturday morning.
Groups from across the conservative spectrum — from Chinese Americans for Trump to the John Birch Society — set up tables and discussed current events. Candidates for local city council seats and the 7th Congressional District gave their pitches.
And new Gwinnett GOP chairman Edward Muldrow made a vow: the complacency born of decades of dominance in Georgia’s second largest county would be no more.
The party, which is facing its broadest and deepest political challenge in Gwinnett in 30 years, was squashing old grudges and infighting between various groups, Muldrow said. They would all work together to get things done, he said.
“Let's get out here and be active,” Muldrow said, “so at the end of 2020 we don't have to have the same conversations that we had at the end of 2018.”
Gwinnett's politics have been gradually shifting to the left for years now. But the 2018 election cycle was a gut punch for the county's Republicans.
Democrat Stacey Abrams took Gwinnett by double digits in the governor's race and Democrats flipped Gwinnett's state legislative delegation. The county commission got its first Democrats since the 1980s.
Republican incumbent Rob Woodall won reelection to the 7th Congressional District — which includes most of a Gwinnett and a sizable chunk of more conservative Forsyth County — by just a few hundred votes.
Recent news that Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter, a longtime Republican, is considering switching parties to have a better shot at victory in his 2020 reelection bid added fresh salt to the wound.
Muldrow, a black Air Force veteran, is part of a new, more diverse leadership team at the Gwinnett GOP. He made it clear that African-American voters, which make up more than a quarter of Gwinnett’s electorate, will be an important group for the party to reach.
But Muldrow also said the organization has do a better job of actively making its pitch to just about everyone in the county. The “laid back approach” of the past can’t be part of the future, he said.
“We just have to show up, we have to be involved,” Muldrow said. “And if that's an uncomfortable situation, then so be it.”
Debbie Dooley, a longtime Tea Party and Republican Party activist, said she’s excited to see where a younger, more diverse leadership takes the local party.
“I think you will see a Gwinnett GOP being more aggressive in reaching out to the community and trying to attract new members and letting folks know why they should be Republicans,” Dooley said.