ATHENS (AP) -- The four Georgia Republicans running for U.S. Senate said Saturday they are united in opposing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, because it doesn't do enough for border security.
U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah, along with former Secretary of State Karen Handel, spoke at an event sponsored by the Georgia Republican Assembly as the GOP gathered for the second day of its state convention. The sign of unity came on a day when the state's top elected official, Gov. Nathan Deal, urged the four "to be nice to each other" with a reference to a legendary feud.
"Competitive primaries may be exciting and energizing but we in Georgia cannot become the Hatfields and McCoys of Georgia, killing off our own before they even get out of the primary," Deal said. "It's important to win the primary but it's even more important to win the general election."
It was a message that Deal's wife, Sandra, delivered early Saturday at a convention breakfast and the four candidates appeared to embrace - at least on the issue of proposed immigration reform. The bill pending in the Senate calls for funds to increase border security but candidates said the first step should be enforcing existing law.
"We absolutely must deal with it but we don't need any new laws," Broun said. "The solution is to secure the borders, both north and south."
"We absolutely are going to be opposed and stand strong against any amnesty," Gingrey said. "My idea about solving this problem is to enforce the laws that are currently on the books."
Gingrey and Handel both said the current proposal was too similar to a 2007 immigration bill that ultimately failed.
"We are about to have deja vu all over again," Handel said. "Only in Washington could the same failed policies be put forward as `reform.' We need to secure the borders now before we do anything else."
Kingston also called for the end of automatic citizenship for those born in the United States.
"When you come to America as a visitor and if you have a child, that child should not automatically be an American citizen," Kingston said. "We are one of the few nations left that still have that relic on the books. It was needed at one time but it is not needed anymore."
During the convention, delegates heard from a number of speakers, including Republican strategist Karl Rove, who rallied the crowd in opposition to President Barack Obama and national Democrats. State tea party activists had earlier expressed unhappiness with Rove's appearance, passing out stickers warning of "Republicans in name only." In the end, Rove received a warm welcome and applause after he finished his remarks.
"Our goal as Republicans is to help restore the American dream, to make it real and vital in the lives of every single American," Rove said. "And we have got to get candidates that reflect the diversity of our country."
Also Saturday, Republicans elected John Padgett as their new state chair. Padgett is a business owner and longtime party activist who most recently served as party secretary.
During an all-day session, all four Senate candidates made speeches. Broun emphasized his commitment to ending what he called "out of control spending." Gingrey touted his conservative ideals, advocating for "limited federal government and strong local government." Kingston talked about his roots across Georgia and his belief that government is "there to serve the people and not the other way around."
Handel, who just announced her candidacy the day before, was added at the last minute. She immediately sought to distinguish herself from the other three congressmen.
"I am running for United States Senate because we need less Washington in Washington," she said.
During his speech, Deal began to make his case for re-election in 2014. So far, he has not drawn any GOP primary challengers, although Dalton Mayor David Pennington has said he's weighing a bid.
The governor said he has decreased the size of state government and balanced the budget while keeping the state's AAA bond rating. He also talked about how minorities are a fast-growing population in Georgia, and encouraged his fellow Republicans to make it a priority to reach out to them. Later in his speech, he talked about the strain on resources that has resulted in a "disproportionately larger share" of refugees sent to Georgia by the federal government.
"We are not cold-hearted. We are very compassionate," Deal said. "We're willing to do our fair share but you just can't dump these large numbers of these communities without having significant consequences that are probably unintended but should have been anticipated."
He ended his remarks emphasizing unity.
"Let's remember that we have to remain strong, that we have to remain united and work diligently to expand our base," Deal said.