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‘Big tent’ approach is key to winning fall elections, state leaders tell Dawson County Republicans
Dawson Republican party Sept. 12 2022
District 51 State Sen. Steve Gooch, right, listens as District 9 State Rep. Will Wade, left, speaks about the Republican Party’s need to attract more Georgia voters during the Sept. 12 Dawson County Republican Party meeting. - photo by Julia Fechter

When Georgia House Rep. Will Wade and Sen. Steve Gooch visited the Dawson County Republican Party meeting earlier this week, political independents were one of the key voting blocs on their minds ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

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“We have to win people in the middle to win statewide,” Gooch said at the Sept. 12 meeting. “If we don't get those moderate voters in the center, we could lose statewide races going forward.” 

Wade said a broader appeal is part of Republicans being a “future-focused party,” later quoting the late President Ronald Reagan when stressing that an “80 percent friend” is not a “20 percent enemy.”

In May, Wade won over four-fifths of the vote for the State House District 9 seat, which includes Dawson, Lumpkin and now part of White County. Gooch’s State Senate District 51 seat includes Dawson, Fannin, Union, Gilmer and Lumpkin counties as before, along with now all of Pickens and part of White counties. Gooch’s district no longer covers a sliver of northern Forsyth County.

While Wade and Gooch are running as unopposed incumbents, they said there’s still a lot of work to do to win other state elections this fall.

In order to maintain the 103-seat Republican state house majority and possibly gain two or three seats, Wade said the path to victory lies with courting independent voters who generally vote conservative in areas like Atlanta, Columbus, Augusta or Vidalia, “not because they’re at least 51% Republican.” He added that that kind of strategy may be “hard to imagine in a community [like Dawson County] where we’re 80-85% Republican.” 

Gooch has been out campaigning for Burt Jones, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, as well as other state senatorial candidates.

While the state senate has a thinner 34-seat majority, Gooch said they’re trying to gain two more seats by “pounding contested areas where they think they can win.”

Though the polls may look promising for Gov. Brian Kemp now, Wade cautioned against conservative complacency and a repeat of “what happened in January,” referring to the U.S. senatorial races. 

Gooch shared that there’s potential for Kemp to win by 10% or more and for the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Herschel Walker, to prevail in his campaign against incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock. 

Widening the tent

“We have to reach out to individuals and talk to them just like you talk to folks in your family, your church or your work and say ‘What’s impacting your life right now?’” , Wade said of finding common ground with independent voters. 

Wade pointed to talking about inflation, saying the economic crunch is pressuring “everybody, regardless of party.” He also mentioned promoting legal immigration, and Gooch highlighted pro-business ideals, such as the conservative desire to lessen taxes on businesses. 

Multiple meeting attendees also pointed to the importance of letting other voters know about the exceptions in Georgia’s new law governing abortions, previously dubbed the “heartbeat bill,” with Wade stating that the legislation “strikes the right balance for the majority of people.”

Gooch called the votes of generation Z and millennials key, noting the lack of younger people in the Dawson Republican meeting. He said that was also a challenge across the party at large, with many Baby Boomers dying off as part of a countrywide demographic time bomb. 

“The big tent is getting smaller because we’re not bringing young people over here and talking to them about these things we’re talking about,” said Gooch, who mentioned Republican values about life, personal responsibility, the Constitution and capitalism.

“I asked my son recently whether he was going to vote Republican or Democrat…and he said ‘I’m going to vote Republican, but dad, some of the Republican party is too extreme for people my age,’” Gooch said. 

The state senator called current conservative youths’ political beliefs akin to many libertarian beliefs. He said Republicans have “got to have a message” for that age group, explaining that a 3-4% drain from Republican to Libertarian candidates could force runoffs in some races. 

Wade also encouraged meeting attendees to make sure friends are registered to vote, calling it “boots on the ground and a worthy endeavor,” particularly given Democrats’ better job of registering voters between 2016-2020. 

Dan Pichon, a member of Dawson County’s Board of Elections and Voter Registration, encouraged attendees to check their registration status on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, ​​

“We don’t want people to stay home because they think their vote doesn't count or that things will work themselves out,” Wade said. 

The big tent is getting smaller because we’re not bringing young people over here and talking to them about these things we’re talking about.
State Sen. Steve Gooch

Voting integrity

Wade spoke about Georgia’s new voting law, noting that the “only thing missing in it is a good audit component” so that the government isn’t put into a position to “inspect itself.”

One solution could be allowing public viewing of election documents instead of having to go to court to unseal those ballots, he said. 

“Just like you [can] have an open records request as a citizen, citizens as voters should have an open record opportunity to view the ballots in those jurisdictions,”  

Wade also acknowledged concern over election fraud and said that counting votes in Georgia is actually a two-step process involving more than just the Dominion Voting Systems machines, over which security concerns have previously been raised. 

A computer prints out a paper ballot, where someone can see their voting selections after their ballet is tabulated, and that ballot is stored, tallied and totaled separately from the electronic records. The machine-automated counts help confirm results faster, and the paper ballots can be compared to results sent to state election officials. 

Wade listed 74 ongoing cases of known voter fraud in Georgia since the 2020 election and an additional 24 that have since been settled.

He described most of the cases as one-off crimes where individuals knowingly voted in the wrong precinct while not changing how they would have voted. 

“How many votes does that equate to? It’s not enough to have overturned the presidential election,” Wade added.