The largest ever state Republican Party convention kicked off Friday afternoon at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

No business was conducted at Friday’s meeting. Important agenda items are scheduled for discussion today, much of it behind closed doors.

State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said the pandemic made it challenging to organize the biannual convention. Normally, it takes nine months of planning to organize the event.

The contract to hold the event on Jekyll Island was signed nine weeks ago, he said.

“I was absolutely adamant this convention be in person,” he said. “This may be the largest state convention we’ve ever had.”

Later in the day, Shafer said more than 1,600 people had already registered with many more waiting in long lines for credentials.

“It’s going to break the record,” he said.

The biggest fear among party officials, Shafer said, is that conservatives will be discouraged and fail to show up at the polls in 2022.

“People are alarmed about what happened in 2020,” he said.

Voters replaced Georgia's two Republican incumbents in the U.S. Senate with two Democrats.

David Belle Isle, candidate for Georgia Secretary of State next year, showed a music video featuring the Charlie Daniels’ song "The Devil Went to Georgia” with lyrics lampooning current Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for his role in the most recent presidential and U.S. Senate elections. One of the lyrics said Raffensperger made sure everyone’s vote was counted, including the dead and the relocated. "A name was not missed,” the song said.

“Three years ago, I was almost your secretary of state,” Belle Isle said. “I wish I was your secretary of state. I am not afraid of Stacy Abrams.”

He said there is a “crisis in voter confidence” in the state.

“We lost the U.S. Senate,” he said. “Trust takes years to earn and seconds to burn, and Brad Raffensperger burned it down."

Belle Isle said if elected he will "strive to ditch” the Dominion voting machines used in the last election and runoffs.

Raffensperger did not speak at the event, but Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr did. The audience was not kind to him, greeting him with a cascade of boos and jeers when he was introduced.

When Carr spoke about defending the Constitution, keeping people safe during a pandemic and keeping the economy open, he was given tepid applause.

Raffensperger and Carr fell out of favor among Republicans loyal to President Donald Trump after the November presidential election following their refusal to challenge the voting results, which awarded the state to Democrat Joe Biden.

When Carr began talking about fair elections and new voter laws in the state, his speech was drowned out by boos.

Insurance Commissioner Gary Black announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is finishing the two years remaining in the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson.

“With hard work and perseverance, we can still find hope,” he said. “Raphael Warnock must go. We’re one vote away, one conserative vote, from our leadership in the Senate.”

The emphasis has to be on faith, family and freedom, he said.

“The elections that will never be stolen are ones where we all show up,” he said. “I’d be honored to serve as your U.S. senator.”

Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods expressed pride in the state starting and finishing the school year in person amid a pandemic.

“You cannot replace teachers with a video screen,” he said, referring to virtual school programs offered in Georgia and elsewhere around the nation.

State educators realize there is no one curriculum that fits all students, which is why students understand their options after graduation include college, technical school, military or entering the workforce.

Woods said U.S. History curriculum in high schools, currently taught for one year, will be expanded to two years, but it will not include the teaching of the controversial critical race theory. If federal funding is a requirement to teach critical race theory, Woods said he would refuse the funding.

The state board of education voted this past week to oppose attempts to introduce the theory in Georgia's public schools.

“I will continue to fight against Washington, D.C., if they overstep,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, said President Biden inherited a peaceful world and a recovering economy. Now, conservative voices are being canceled, China is stealing intellectual property and there is more unrest in the Middle East, he said.

“The Trump Administration left pretty much a peaceful world,” he said. “I stand with Israel."

The state’s new election laws make it easier to vote, not more difficult as Democrats claim, he said. The Democratic agenda is to “just do the opposite” of Trump.

“We’re fighting to keep the American dream going,” he said. “We’ve got to take this government back. We can only do it if we stick together and if we fight.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-12, said Trump won the state in 2016 and 2020, with both wins in double digits.

The official count gave Biden the race in Georgia.

“We have to focus on the false prophet Raphael Warnock,” he said.

Republican voters have already sent a message by donating a record amount of money to support conservative candidates.

“The enemy can be stopped,” he said. “God will defeat the enemies of him. If we bless Israel, God will bless us.”

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-10, said Trump’s policies were “absolutely phenomenal” and Biden’s policies an “absolute disaster.”

“What happened in Georgia had a tremendous impact to the rest of the nation,” he said. “We’re in the fight of our lives for this country. We are the tip of the spear in this battle.”

The convention continues today with registration at 7 a.m., breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and committees reconvening at 8 a.m. for nominating, credentials, sergeant at arms, resolutions and rules.

When the convention reconvenes at 10 a.m. in the main exhibit hall, members will vote on convention rules, appointments, the election of party officers and resolutions.

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