James Alonzo Brannen was many things, including the first mayor of the city of Statesboro. Very well respected, he was urged to run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Congress in 1904. His opponent would be none other than long-time incumbent Col. Rufus Lester of Savannah.
On June 12, 1903, an editorial in Swainsboro’s Pine Forest newspaper opined, “Colonel Lester has been in office long enough that he is almost worn out and is too feeble.”
On Aug. 7, 1903, another local newspaper, this time the Bryan Enterprise stated, “It is to Mr. Brannen and a few others of such an enterprising spirit that Statesboro and Bulloch County owe their phenomenal success and prosperity.”
Finally, the Savannah Press declared on Oct. 6, 1903 that “For the first time in 16 years there may be a fight between the Democrats. … It will be a goodly battle, worthy of going miles to witness.”
Lester won the 1904 Democratic Primary (held on April 20th) in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties by large margins. Brannen, on the other hand, won in Bulloch, Emanuel, Screven, and Tattnall Counties by large margins. Lester won the nomination with 18 votes to Brannen’s 14.
Not deterred, James Alonzo Brannen ran again in the 1906 elections for Congress. He felt he had a better chance as the counties of Jenkins and Toombs had been added to the district with two votes each. The newspaper, the Lyons Progress reported that “According to the Savannah Press, the country counties have no right to ask for representation.”
There were two main candidates: Colonel Walter Sheppard (a Savannah lawyer); and the country favorite, Colonel Brannen. Brannen was right, for once the April primary votes were counted, both candidates were tied with 18 convention votes.
Brannen had won Bulloch, Burke, Emanuel, Jenkins, Screven and Toombs Counties, while Sheppard had won Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty and McIntosh Counties. The Democratic convention actually was held at the Jaeckel Hotel in Statesboro.
Once the members voted, it was discovered the convention was formally deadlocked. The Statesboro News reported on Sept. 18, 1906, that Col. Brannen had offered to withdraw if Colonel Sheppard would do the same. Col. Sheppard refused.
The next day, the Bulloch Times reported Colonel Brannen had suggested a third nominee, or “Dark Horse candidate,” be chosen to break the impasse. This was not done, and the Statesboro Convention was finally dissolved after over six hundred unsuccessful ballots.
The delegates reassembled in Waynesboro on Sept. 24, 1906. After another nearly one hundred ballots, for a total of 700 since being convened, the Democratic convention selected Judge Samuel B. Adams of Savannah.
Unfortunately, Adams declined the nomination. The convention was closed for the second time, and moved to the city of Savannah. Here, five more men were nominated: Williams, Giles, Twiggs, Clifton, and Stovall. Unfortunately, none of these candidates could get a majority of the votes.
Convention delegate Colonel E.K. Overstreet told reporters that the Savannah political system was “more corrupt than the Chicago Ward-Heelers or the Tammany thugs of New York.”
According to the Statesboro News on Oct. 16, 1906, candidate Charles G. Edwards finally got the nod after his brother, a Tattnall delegate, cast the tie-breaking vote. Thus ended J.A. Brannen’s efforts to represent Bulloch County and the rest of Coastal Georgia in the United States Congress.