A showdown is brewing over who will lead Georgia GOP after crushing election defeats

12/14/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Georgia Republican Chairman David Shafer speaks with members of the media at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020. Georgia Republicans held a meeting in the Capitol building at the same time of the the official ballot casting by the Georgia Electoral College. The Electoral College unanimously voted for President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
12/14/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Republican Chairman David Shafer speaks with members of the media at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020. Georgia Republicans held a meeting in the Capitol building at the same time of the the official ballot casting by the Georgia Electoral College. The Electoral College unanimously voted for President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A showdown is brewing over leadership of the Georgia Republican party after the GOP suffered crushing defeats in the November elections and January Senate runoffs to ascendant state Democrats.

Georgia GOP chair David Shafer is trying to maintain control of a party apparatus he won in 2019 with a pledge to beef up a “neglected” grassroots in dozens of counties that have no local GOP organizations.

But Shafer is facing growing internal pressure after Georgia voted Democratic for president for the first time since 1992 and Republican incumbents were swept in last month’s Senate runoffs.

Cobb County GOP chair Jason Shepherd on Saturday announced a challenge to Shafer at a grassroots breakfast where he was introduced by former GOP chair Sue Everhart. And other activists could mount a bid for the job before the June vote, including Scott Johnson, a former Cobb GOP chair and state Board of Education member who was runner-up to Shafer in 2019.

At stake is control of a state GOP infrastructure that will coordinate how the party will spend millions of dollars and chart out strategy in the 2022 elections, when Gov. Brian Kemp and every other statewide constitutional officer will be on the ballot, along with newly elected Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Shafer, a former state senator who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, hasn’t formally announced yet but his allies say he is likely to do so soon.

‘A mess.’ Georgia politicians prepare for brutal 2022 battles

The fractious but powerful state GOP organization is coming off a record-breaking fundraising cycle thanks to the epic Senate runoff campaigns, which ended with the defeats of Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in races dominated by former President Donald Trump’s efforts to reverse his defeat in Georgia.

But the battle does not appear, at least yet, to revolve around a divide over Trump’s legacy.

Shafer endorsed Trump’s sham narrative of widespread voting fraud in Georgia and filed a lawsuit alleging the improper counting of ballots. He also engineered a vote of a shadow slate of GOP electors on the same day Democrats formally approved the state’s 16 electoral votes for President Joe Biden in case Trump’s challenge prevailed.

And Shepherd was a plaintiff in the error-riddled lawsuit filed by former Trump attorney Sidney Powell that sought to nullify Georgia’s election results. The lawsuit was quickly dismissed in courts of every level, along with other legal challenges seeking to invalidate Biden’s victory.

Instead, Shepherd’s platform will center on uniting a divided party that has suffered grievous defeats, even in his own backyard: Cobb has swung increasingly Democratic since Trump’s 2016 election and is now a key cornerstone of the party’s coalition in 2022.

A newly elected Cobb County GOP chairman Jason Shepherd stands with fellow officers on Saturday -- photo via Shepherd's Facebook page.
Caption
A newly elected Cobb County GOP chairman Jason Shepherd stands with fellow officers on Saturday -- photo via Shepherd's Facebook page.

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

Shepherd, a college professor and attorney, invoked the likelihood of Stacey Abrams’ expected run for governor in his campaign announcement. He also promised to bolster training for local activists and empower grassroots leaders to be more involved in the party’s decision-making process.

“Voters have stopped voting for our Republican candidates because they are confused about what we believe in,” he said in a statement. “We’ve substituted tactics for message and voters don’t understand what we stand for anymore.”

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