SUWANEE - Gwinnett County Republicans re-elected their chairman in a close race Saturday.
J. Gregory Howard bested challenger Seth Weathers 67 votes to 63, but incumbent Kathryn Gartland was ousted from the first vice chairmanship by Brandon Doty. Doty won 74 votes to Gartland's 56.
Weathers said he intended to help grow the party, which has experienced a decline in membership, regardless of his title.
"I'm a member of the Republican Party whether I'm the chairman of it or not," he said. "I hope the party comes together afterward."
Howard said he is looking forward to working with the new board, which includes Second Vice Chairman Eric Spohn, Secretary Judy Bailey and Treasurer Kimberly Silver.
"They're young, energetic," Howard said. "It wasn't embattled, it was a very friendly race. That's the best kind."
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Duluth, addressed the 130 delegates and other guests during the four-hour convention at Peachtree Ridge High School.
Both thanked Gwinnett Republicans for their work in the county and the nation. Chambliss commented on working with Senate Democrats whose views are 180 degrees away from his, saying he disagreed with social programs funded in the new budget and their views on the Iraq War. He said he is "cautiously optimistic" about it.
"I don't want to get you too optimistic about what's going on," he said. "It has not been going well for the last 18 to 20 months. ... Failure in Iraq is not an option. What failure in Iraq means is the terrorists follow us back to the United States."
Chambliss, who said he will be one of Democrats' top targets as his re-election campaign approaches, got his biggest cheers when he commented on illegal immigration, saying the country should seal its borders and keep illegal immigrants from being rewarded for entering the country.
Linder said the Democrats' move to the left will help Republicans and said the local groups had to come up with ideas and agendas instead of waiting for a presidential candidate to lead the way.
What Linder calls the FairTax, a national sales tax plan he sponsors, has an increasingly good chance of moving to the top of the agenda, he said.
"You're the people in communities that make these things happen, and I came by to say thank you," he said.