MACON — In a rebuke to new Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Republicans on Saturday elected Sue Everhart to another term as state party chairwoman over Deal's hand-picked candidate.
Deal, the new Republican governor, was booed by members of his own party before he watched Tricia Pridemore go down to defeat.
Everhart received 946 delegate votes at the party convention in Macon on Saturday, defeating Pridemore in the second round of voting. Pridemore got 755 votes.
Fulton County Republican Party Chairman Shawn Hanley, a former U.S. Marine, dropped out after the first round of balloting.
The race for the volunteer post had become increasingly bitter and had sharply split the Georgia GOP, which had been on something of a high since sweeping statewide elections last year.
Backers credited Everhart, 65, with helping lead the party to historic wins last year. They say she'll keep the party independent.
Supporters of Pridemore argued the 39-year-old former businesswoman possessed the skills to broaden the party's base and make better use of new media. She also wanted to do more outreach to minority groups.
But Deal's backing of Pridemore created a backlash among some. They said he was trying to strip the party of its independence and make it an extension of the governor's office heading into the 2012 presidential election season.
Deal said Saturday he has "utmost respect for Sue" and explained the party needs to do more to reach newcomers.
"I'm grateful that Tricia Pridemore has stepped up," said Deal, and was greeted with a loud and sustained chorus of boos - along with some cheers.
He was forced to speak over the hubbub and wrapped up his remarks quickly.
"I will respect your judgment," Deal told the delegates before leaving the stage.
Following his speech Saturday, Deal told reporters it was "only appropriate" to speak up for Pridemore after encouraging her to run.
"You can't very well not back up people you support," Deal said. "She was an important part of my campaign team, I came to know her. I came to trust her."
For Deal, the vote raises questions about how much control he has over his own party, particularly the grassroots and tea party factions that lined up behind Everhart. He emerged as the Republican nominee for governor by a slim 2,500-vote margin after a hard-fought runoff last year. Deal is backing Newt Gingrich in the presidential race.
But the outcome on Saturday suggests he could face obstacles in delivering the state for the former U.S. House speaker.
The boos came after Deal delivered a speech heavy on states' rights. He received a standing ovation after noting that on Friday he'd signed a bill cracking down on illegal immigration.
It was a busy day of stump speeches in Macon.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said the American dream is under attack from runaway debt, a stagnant economy and a Democratic administration forcing a legislative agenda that citizens don't want.
The radio show host and Godfather's Pizza CEO brought delegates to their feet, arguing that for Americans being No. 2 economically or militarily "is not in our DNA."
Cain has never held elected office and is considered a longshot for the White House. But he's become a tea party darling. And he received an enthusiastic reception in his home state Saturday.
Gingrich delivered the keynote address Friday night.
U.S Sen. Johnny Isakson noted Saturday that the state is poised to play a high-profile role in 2012 with "two great Georgians, Gingrich and Cain, already seeking the GOP nomination for the White House.
The rallying cry from speaker after speaker Saturday was the need to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama in November and keep the state in the Republican column next year.