Re-elected Georgia Democratic Party chairman promises presidential relevance after 2014 losses

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MACON, Georgia — Georgia Democrats re-elected DuBose Porter at the party's state committee meeting on Saturday in Macon, giving the chairman his first full term at the helm as the party tries to recover from statewide losses in the midterm elections.

Porter defeated one challenger, Rockdale County Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley, 141-92 in results announced by the party.

Porter, a former House minority leader, was elected party chairman in a 2013 special election after then-chair Mike Berlon stepped down citing personal issues. Democrats at the time also questioned the party's weak fundraising. But Porter was harshly criticized after legacy candidates Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter lost races for U.S. Senate and governor in 2014, including by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed who said failure should not be rewarded.

Porter defended his record during his nomination speech on Saturday, telling about 300 party members that Georgia's ballot was a "national topic of conversation" in 2014 though Nunn and Carter fell about 8 points short in November. He said the party will focus on making Georgia a key state during the 2016 presidential election.

"Look how far we've come in a year and a half," Porter said. "We're financially stable ... We went from being a national laughingstock to a model of how to turn a party around."

Democrats across the conservative South are seeking a path forward after Republicans' success in the 2014 midterm elections. In Georgia, that conversation has centered on how to grow the party and whether Porter is the best person to lead that effort.

Some black Democrats in the South also have expressed disappointment with candidates who distanced themselves from Obama's agenda during the midterms. Hadley put that debate on full display in his speech on Saturday, thanking Obama by name. He also promised to recruit candidates at the local level and criticized the party for its tendency to "look for familiar names." Nunn's father, Sam Nunn, is a former U.S. senator from Georgia. Carter is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

"We appreciate the establishment, but when we look at the results, maybe it hasn't delivered the results we want," Hadley said.

Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson, who led President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election effort in the South and remains an ally to Reed, publicly debated a challenge to Porter. Johnson ultimately bowed out, but said in a statement this month that Democrats "want a new strategic direction" in Georgia.

Members of the Georgia Republican Party plans to choose their party leaders during a state convention in May in Athens.

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