Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parties Prep for Election Battles; but Continued Infighting among Top Republicans Could Offer a New Twist

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parties Prep for Election Battles; but Continued Infighting among Top Republicans Could Offer a New Twist

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Ask leaders of the Georgia Republican and Democratic parties what they plan to talk about leading up to this year's elections, and they're likely to tick off a routine list: jobs, health care, education, the fight against terrorism.

Perhaps just as likely to be an issue, though, are the fissures beginning to show in the 3-year-old GOP majority as legislative and statewide candidates head to Atlanta this week to qualify for office. One U.S. Senate seat, 13 congressional seats and the 236 state legislative positions are up for grabs during this presidential election year.

The parties already are trying to draw the battle lines in a way that positions them best for the battles in November. And Democrats are preparing to use the internal dynamics of the reigning Republican Party against the GOP - which could lead to internal warfare among Republicans.

"The Republicans, especially in Georgia, are pretty good at getting elected. But they're not so good at governing," said Martin Matheny, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. "We need to send some steady, tested, mature leadership back over to the state Capitol."

Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, battled throughout the just-finished legislative session over tax reform, transportation funding and legislative overrides of vetoes Perdue issued last year. The session ended with Richardson calling for a new lieutenant governor and Cagle calling the speaker a bully.

The fighting even has prompted speculation at the Capitol that Republicans from different camps might sponsor primary challengers to members of rival factions.

"That would be something different in Georgia," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "That's not something that's been done."

For his part, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen downplayed the notion that the GOP could turn against itself in the primaries.

Even so, the fight will factor into the fall campaigns as Democrats try to paint a picture of a do-nothing General Assembly where the GOP's personal battles stymied critical legislation.

"There's a lot of frustration and a lot of downright anger at the way the Republicans kind of forgot that they're supposed to be public servants," Matheny said.

But Ben Fry, executive director of the state GOP, disputed that. He ticked off GOP accomplishments: pushing through a state water policy; passing education legislation such as a measure encouraging charter schools; making it easier to open new medical facilities in the state; and setting aside almost $59 million for financially struggling trauma care hospitals, which handle the most severely injured patients.

"I think the voters are going to look at the end results, to be honest with you," he said. …

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