Political Insider

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Why a contender for Georgia GOP chair voted in Democratic primaries

A grassroots activist running to lead the Georgia GOP acknowledged that he voted twice in Democratic primaries in the mid-2000s, saying it was a calculated move to defeat a controversial U.S. House incumbent.

DeKalb attorney Alex Johnson said his votes in the 2004 and 2006 Democratic primaries were at the urging of Republican activists who asked conservatives “to do our part to help defeat” then-U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Johnson is making his third bid to lead the Georgia GOP and is relying on a coalition of conservative supporters in the four-candidate race. The race to lead the embattled state party is not like a conventional election and loyalty to party is typically prized.

His critics see a note of hypocrisy: Johnson routinely attacks another contender for the seat, Republican operative John Watson, for donating to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed ahead of his 2013 reelection. Yet at the same time, they'll note, he has voted for Democratic candidates.

(Watson has cited Reed's close friendship with Gov. Nathan Deal and other GOP leaders - and the fact that no Republican was in the race.)

Two other candidates are also in the race: Georgia GOP vice-chair Michael McNeely and Mike Welsh, the 12th District GOP chair.

McKinney represented a DeKalb-based district from 1992 to 2002, when she was ousted in the primary by Denise Majette after a series of controversial and embarrassing comments. She made a brief comeback, winning the 2004 vote before losing another primary challenge to Hank Johnson in 2006.

Johnson said Republicans living in the deep-blue district were “organized and encouraged” to cross-over and vote against McKinney, and he cited a 2006 New York Times story that mentioned the GOP factor in that contest.

In his statement, he said he was a co-founder of the Oglethorpe University College Republicans at the same time and that there was never any “confusion” about his ideology.

“Loyal Republicans wouldn't complain about me helping Democrat Cynthia McKinney lose over a decade ago,” said Johnson.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.