A different sort of soul-searching envelops Georgia… | www.myajc.com

23
Oct

A different sort of soul-searching envelops Georgia… | www.myajc.com

In other corners of the country, Republicans talk of launching a counteroffensive against the tea party forces that engineered this month’s government shutdown. But here in Georgia, opinions are quite different.

At GOP gatherings across the state, rank-and-file members express frustration that the shutdown ended in a whimper and concern that not enough die-hard conservatives are in office.

While many are upset that the effort to gut the health-care law by holding up essential funding didn’t work, they do support the spirit of the fight. And they are letting Republican leaders know it every chance they get.

At a gathering in Sandy Springs, hardliners who were willing to continue with the shutdown pressed U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on his vote to reopen the government. In a cramped Ringgold conference room, business owners urged Gov. Nathan Deal to outline how he would slow the health-care overhaul in light of the shutdown’s failure to stop it. And curious voters in Alpharetta challenged Senate candidate Karen Handel on how she could chart a better course.

“We have the no backbone camp and the backbone camp inside the GOP,” said Lovick Evans, an engineer who was at Handel’s event at an all-you-can-eat diner. “The ones without backbones are the ones who have been in office longer, and the new group has the backbones. We just need more backbone.”

Just as telling were the reactions from the three leaders, whose responses to their party’s October offensive underscored the divide over its next step. Each articulated a different strategy to dislodge President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and force a confrontation with Democrats on new spending cuts.

And all recognized the risk of a replay of the last few weeks that looms again in January, when another fight could erupt over another funding bill that’s needed to keep the government running.

Isakson, a critic of GOP tactics that led to the shutdown, told the crowd to concentrate on the victories his party extracted in reaching a deal with Democrats to fund the government. One was tighter income verification requirements for the new insurance exchange marketplace. He also attacked a media that he said largely “espouse the Democratic line” and tilt the playing field.

“They are trying to demonize the tea party for the Democrats,” he said. “We have to realize there’s a method to their madness. They’d love to divide us against each other.”

That type of argument was a recurring theme in the post-shutdown meetings, where GOP partisans attacked both the message and the medium. Polls show Republicans in Congress with dismal approval ratings in the wake of the shutdown.

“We need to get the Republican Party’s messaging fixed. They have no messaging capability and we end up looking like schmucks,” said Bryan Chamberlain, who was frustrated that the party seemingly failed at communicating its side of the story. “I’m looking for somebody to get the message out, but it takes the media.”

Handel, one of five high-profile Republicans in the Senate race, said the shutdown strategy was too little, too late. She said her party should have “thrown down the gauntlet” when the law first reached a vote four years ago.

“Three years went by and we waited until literally weeks before implementation until we decided this was going to be a gauntlet moment,” she said. But once the fight was engaged, she said, “I would have held the line. I would have kept the shutdown going. The other side just did a better job.”

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