ATLANTA — Georgia Republicans gathered for their annual President’s Day fundraising dinner Monday night, celebrating big wins in last year’s election and pledging to continue the momentum into 2012.
Republicans made history in the fall when they swept the statewide constitutional offices in Georgia. But GOP leaders said Monday the now-dominant party in the state cannot be complacent.
“Once you finish one election there is already another one there ahead of you,” said House Speaker David Ralston.
Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, making his first major public speech since leaving office in January, said the party has succeeded by staying true to its principles.
“That is the reason we see all the constitutional officers here tonight,” Perdue said, after jokingly thanking the GOP for inviting “an old has-been.”
The first Republican governor in Georgia since Reconstruction, Perdue has been laying low since returning to Bonaire.
“I’m really trying to behave myself as a former governor,” Perdue laughingly told reporters before the dinner.
His successor, Nathan Deal, said he feels like he’s racking up a good batting average rate since taking office Jan. 10.
“The real test often is can you govern, not can you get elected, but can you govern,” Deal said.
“We’ve had about two-and-a-half months and I don’t think we’re doing too bad.”
The governor has already signed into law an overhaul of the state’s cash-strapped HOPE scholarship, one of the biggest legislative challenges this session. Some Democrats argue the HOPE plan harms poor students in the state.
Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart noted that as the GOP has made gains, the party dinners have stretched later into the evening.
“We’ve got so many elected officials that it takes a little longer, but it sure does feel good,” Everhart said
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who just won re-election to a second six-year term, warned that in Washington, the battle for the direction of the country is at a crossroads.
“We’re in the fight of our lives,” Isakson said.
The event’s keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., excoriated liberals and the Obama administration and called on Republicans “to preserve, protect and defend our way of life.”
West grew up in Atlanta and he described an emotional return home to his old hometown.