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Gwinnett Democratic Party chief loses race for state post

ATLANTA - Georgia Democrats chose their first female chairman in three decades Saturday, electing former state Rep. Jane Kidd on the fourth ballot over Gwinnett County Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon and three others.

Kidd, of Athens, defeated Berlon 138-101 in a vote of state Democratic Committee members at a union hall just south of downtown Atlanta.

Berlon, Gwinnett's chairman for the last four years, led after the first two ballots but failed to win a majority either time.

But Kidd came on strong, apparently picking up votes from two other female candidates who were eliminated during the early balloting.

After her victory, Kidd said it's important to have a woman in leadership if Democrats in Georgia are to rebound from a losing streak that has cost the party the governor's office, both U.S. Senate seats and control of the General Assembly.

"Women are over 50 percent of the population," she said. "We need to reflect the public."

Kidd, daughter of the late Gov. Ernest Vandiver, served in the House during the 2005-06 term before losing a bid for the Senate last fall.

Her task in that race became more difficult when majority Republicans redrew the portion of the Senate map in her part of the state last year, putting her in a district favorable to the GOP.

In nominating Kidd for state chairman, Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, D-Macon, cited her years of behind-the-scenes work for the party before coming to the legislature, a period when she honed her organizational skills.

Brown said grass-roots organizing will be a key to Georgia Democrats rebounding from the defeats of the last three elections.

"It's time for our party to come back," he said. "We have a comeback kid."

During their speeches to committee members, several of the candidates - including Kidd - talked of the need for Democrats to reach out to voters throughout the state and not allow Republicans to paint Georgia Democrats as a metro Atlanta party.

Kidd pointed to the success of the national Democrats' 50-state strategy in last fall's congressional elections, which toppled Republicans from power in Congress.

"We should do the same thing in Georgia with a 159-county strategy," she said.

Kidd and Berlon made a show of unity after the voting, with Berlon seconding a motion from Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin - one of only three remaining Democratic statewide elected officials - to elect Kidd by acclamation.

Kidd promised a role for Berlon during her chairmanship.

"I'm not going to let him off the hook," she said. "He's going to have to work anyway."

Hattie Dorsey of Atlanta, a party vice chair, finished third in the balloting. The Rev. Jim Nelson of Savannah, a candidate for Congress last fall, was fourth.

Former state Sen. Carol Jackson of Cleveland was fifth.

Kidd succeeds Bobby Kahn, a former executive director of the party who took over as chairman after serving as chief of staff for former Gov. Roy Barnes.

The last woman to serve as Democratic chairman, Marge Thurman, headed the party during the 1970s. She died in 1982.