Saturday May 28th, 2016 4:18PM

Ga. Republicans gather in Athens for convention

By The Associated Press
ATHENS - As the state GOP convention officially came to order Friday, a small group of tea party and other activists stood outside to announce a large-scale voter outreach effort this year in part because they feel they can't depend on national Republicans to win elections.

While the convention message has been one of unity, the party's divisions are also on display.

Tea party activist Debbie Dooley passed out stickers warning of ``Republicans in name only,'' and called it a message to GOP strategist Karl Rove, who is set to address the convention on Saturday. Activists say they're concerned by Rove's plans to run advertising for Republicans they view as capable of winning a general election, calling it an unnecessary interference in the primary process.

``Electability is important. But people said Ronald Reagan couldn't get elected and he did,'' Dooley said.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who is running for Congress in Georgia's 11th District, said he's optimistic the GOP will stay united and dismissed the electability argument as nothing new. He said Rove, however, may not be the best person to be offering advice.

``If you say we're going to define electability up here at the national level, you're probably not going to be very successful,'' Barr said.

BJ Van Gundy, a longtime GOP activist running for state chair, agreed: ``By having campaigns, the voters decide.''

Seth Harp, a former state senator also running for state chair, said he was concerned a lack of unity could undermine the party. Harp said he believed some Republicans who were disappointed their candidate was not the 2012 presidential nominee stayed home and didn't vote, costing the party the general election.

``We cannot be divisive,'' Harp said, adding his experiences in the Georgia General Assembly taught him candidates must be open-minded. He said Republicans must stop being ``the party of no.''

``It's easy to criticize, but governing is very, very hard work,'' Harp said. ``If you don't have compromise, what happens is that you don't govern.''

The two-day convention continues Saturday with several speeches by top elected officials in the state, including Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Three congressmen seeking Georgia's open U.S. Senate seat are expected to make their case to the party faithful, which will also be selecting a new state chair among a crowded field.

Delegates will also debate various resolutions. A lively debate is expected over an effort to seek a halt to implementation of the Common Core academic standards. The standards are opposed by various tea party and conservative groups who say they amount to federal intrusion and threaten student privacy.

The governor sought to defuse any infighting earlier in the week by issuing an executive order prohibiting the state from collecting certain information on students and their families, including religious and political affiliation and voting history, although that data was not currently being collected.

The voter outreach effort announced Friday includes partnering with other organizations including Georgia Right To Life, Georgia Fair Tax, Republican Liberty Caucus and Georgia Carry. The $400,000 project will focus on organizing to the precinct level, reaching out to voters with door-to-door surveys and voter education. Dooley said the effort will focus on issues that voters care about and hopes to engage 1,000 volunteers by the 2014 election.

``Watching the Republican National Committee ground game on a national level in 2012 was like watching mall cops battle Navy SEALs,'' Dooley said. ``The ultimate goal is to make sure we have educated and informed voters dominating the primary and general elections.''
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