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SPIGOLON: How far will the Republican split go in Georgia?

The state Republican convention last weekend on Jekyll Island laid bare the enormous split the party now has in Georgia in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s lambasting of the governor and secretary of state for not doing more to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in Georgia in November.

The convention and, apparently, the party is now divided between Trump loyalists who believe Democrats “stole” the election, and those realistic Republicans who believe it’s time to move on from the results and the former president’s still powerful hold on national party leadership.

The convention voted to censure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who defended the election results that withstood three counts and recounts in 2020 and lawsuits alleging voter fraud in Georgia and other states this year.

Raffensperger supported tightening of election ID laws as he defended the results. As a result he earned the wrath of Trump by not doing something to find enough votes to give him Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. 

He also took the initiative to send out absentee voting applications in the early spring of 2020 just as the then-little known pandemic was beginning to hit the state hard.

Raffensperger took this action so Georgia voters could cast their ballots without risking their safety because of COVID-19. Reaction to that move from Trump and, ultimately, his seemingly blindly obeying followers, has haunted the secretary of state ever since.

The secretary of state now is in position not to even win his own party’s nomination for his job in the 2022 election. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, is Trump’s endorsed candidate for the position and appears to be the front-runner at this point — though former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle is running a strong race as well.

Hice appears to be using the Trump playbook in running for the seat. Raffensperger responded that, “Few have done more to cynically undermine faith in our election system than Jody Hice ... Georgia Republicans seeking a candidate who’s accomplished nothing on election reform or anything else, now have one.”

The secretary, who is the state's chief elections official, followed state law just as Gov. Brian Kemp did in not moving to use whatever power he had to overturn the results.

The governor has taken a number of steps in recent weeks to build support inside the GOP, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

“He got behind controversial legislation overhauling Georgia’s election laws that is popular among Republicans, opposed a proposed Biden administration education plan to emphasize the existence of systemic racism throughout America’s history and banned state agencies from requiring COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports,’” the News Service reported.

Still, the state’s first lifelong Republican governor in its history (governors Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal were Democrats turned Republicans) was booed at the state Republican Convention for following state law.

Kemp seems to be in a better position to win reelection at this early stage.

But this infighting within the party has already prompted Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan not to seek reelection next year.

It will be interesting to see just how far to the Trump right the state’s Republicans will go before they figure out Democrats are now formidable adversaries in Georgia — and are united.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at