At the end of this month, I will be among nearly 300 Central Committee members who will vote for two of the three Maryland representatives to the Republican National Committee. As of this writing, both are contested races: Louis Pope is running for another four-year term against Anne Arundel County Central Committee member Scott Shaffer, while former party Chair Audrey Scott is running for a seat opened up by the retirement of Joyce Terhes. Her opponent is Nicolee Ambrose, Chairman Emeritus of the Young Republican National Federation.
It’s obvious that the GOP is at somewhat of a crossroads here in Maryland. The 2010 election didn’t go as well as the party would have liked at the top, since none of the statewide candidates even sniffed victory in their races. Just as a sad review, Bob Ehrlich lost by a 56-42 margin to Martin O’Malley, and he was the closest of the statewide losers. Bill Campbell lost the Comptroller race by a 61-39 count and Eric Wargotz was blown out 62-36 by Barb Mikulski. Worst of all, the party didn’t even field an opponent for Attorney General Doug Gansler, allowing him to save his campaign funds for a 2014 run and assist other candidates.
Down ticket, the state results were mixed. Republicans got back to their traditional 6-2 deficit in our Congressional delegation when Andy Harris avenged his 2008 defeat to Frank Kratovil, and they also returned to the 43-seat minority they enjoyed in the middle of the last decade – their best showing in the House of Delegates in modern history. And aside from the loss of two Maryland Senate seats in close races, the GOP was relatively successful at the local level in picking up a number of local seats.
But the Maryland Republican Party faces other problems as well. Their ongoing financial struggles meant they had to abandon their prime West Street office location for one a little more off the beaten path, a converted residence around the corner on Cathedral Street. Ambitious fundraising goals are set but not met.
And finances have a lot to do with the races for National Committeeman and National Committeewoman. Both the incumbent National Committeeman Pope and Committeewoman hopeful Scott (who was Party Chair at the time) have hung their hat on the fact they brought a lot of national money to the state party, which was used to establish seven Victory Centers. These Victory Centers were supposedly set around the state, but in reality most were in or near the First Congressional District. This is likely the result of the state party’s waiver of Rule 11 in April, long before the September primary and only scant days after Bob Ehrlich made it official he would run.
But one has to ask the question: would that money have come if the national Chair at the time was someone other than Michael Steele? There’s no way of answering that question, but it brings up another one: if Pope and Scott are willing to take credit for the windfall which came our way in 2010, will they accept the blame for the poor fundraising we’ve endured before and since?
And there is that Rule 11 question. I have heard anecdotal evidence that the Victory Centers were generally used to push the Ehrlich and Harris campaigns, while local efforts were somewhat left to fend for themselves. Of course no one should be dependent entirely on the state party for his or her money and support, but the local successes are made all the more remarkable because of that attitude while the close losses are more stinging. Here in District 38, a bigger push in Wicomico County could have won the Senate seat for Michael James, who won both Wicomico and Somerset counties but lost in Worcester County. I happen to think the difference was created (at least locally) by TEA Party activists who rolled up their sleeves and got as many conservative Republicans as they could elected. But how many TEA Party supporters were turned off by the heavy-handed activities of the state GOP invoking Rule 11?
While I’ll concede that Rule 11 doesn’t appear to be an issue in this election – even though the temptation was there in the case of Roscoe Bartlett – I appreciate that Louis Pope lent his support to the Rule 11 resolution Heather Olsen and I attempted to advance at the last state convention. While we decided not to pursue it this time around, I know I’m going to keep it in my back pocket just in case.
On the other hand, Audrey Scott did her best to invoke her own version of the rule on behalf of the candidates she supported. One person who objected was Delegate Michael Hough who wrote in response to quotes attributed to Scott regarding Roscoe Bartlett: “One must ask if these are the kind of false and negative attacks we want coming from our National Committeewoman?” There’s no question that Audrey was within her right to do so, but one has to ponder how much she will back other candidates in the race now that her choices lost – particularly when the perception his victory is “impossible” could damage Roscoe Bartlett’s chances in the Sixth District against a well-funded Democratic challenger in John Delaney.
There’s no question that both Pope and Scott have a long history in the Republican Party, and for that they deserve our respect. But I’m pleased that both drew opponents.
Let’s begin with Scott Shaffer. He began his campaign with a bang, and I was one of the first to point this out. But I haven’t seen a whole lot of follow-through since and, to be quite honest, I don’t see a significant enough difference between him and Pope to be convinced his lack of party experience wouldn’t be detrimental to our cause.
And something else which could be detrimental is Shaffer’s support for same-sex marriage, which is outside the party orthodoxy. I understand that he’s under the belief that younger voters who support gay marriage would be more open to joining the GOP, but being wrong is being wrong whatever the age. In response to a group called Maryland Republicans for Marriage Equality, he wrote:
Thank you for your endorsement. Personally, I support marriage equality. As a Central Committee member trying to build our party in Maryland, I also strongly believe that attempts to define this issue along strict partisan lines only hurt our party in the long run. Whatever one’s stance on this issue, it has much less correlation to party affiliation than it does to other factors such as age. Young, fiscal conservative voters, who wish to keep government out of their personal lives as much as possible, should be the future of the Republican Party. Yet they’re registering as independents/
unaffiliateds in record numbers because they see so many current Republican leaders as outdated and out of touch on social issues. I am committed to bringing these voters back into the Republican Party, and I support groups like Maryland Republicans for Marriage Equality who recognize that the core Republican values of individual liberty and limited government should be the lens through which we view this issue.
I happen to believe that social issues have a tie to fiscal conservatism, because much of what we spend our government money on stems from the continuing erosion of the moral high ground. Obviously, gay marriage is nowhere near the most important issue in the Committeeman race but the party should stand for morality – though not necessarily government enforcement of same.
I think Shaffer would be better suited to pursue a party office at the next opportunity and then try again in 2016. No doubt we will continue to be trying to attract younger voters (although I doubt gay marriage would be the ticket in that respect) so his time may come then.
But at this point, I recommend retaining Louis Pope as National Committeeman, with the caveat that another better candidate could jump in the race.
As opposed to Shaffer’s relative silence in the race, Nicolee Ambrose has been all over the state trying to convince Central Committee members she’s worth voting for. Now if you judge the number of endorsements Scott has supposedly received (and I say ‘supposedly’ for a reason) from various Central Committee members around the state, you may believe it’s an exercise in futility. But there’s always the chance to change hearts and minds.
Now I can guarantee you I don’t agree with everything that Nicolee Ambrose has stated on the campaign trail – for one thing, I don’t believe in open primaries because I think it’s better to bring the people to the candidate’s conservative point of view (like Reagan did) than to select the squishiest GOP candidate who’s supposedly ‘electable’ (see Dole, McCain, Romney, etc.)
But here’s the key question: Audrey Scott has been involved with the Maryland Republican Party for a long time, and what do we have to show for it? In the year she was Chair, we managed to alienate an important segment of the conservative population (the TEA Party) by invoking Rule 11 and spent a whole lot of money – for what? Yes, Andy Harris won but people were so mad at Frank Kratovil that he didn’t have a prayer of winning his seat back. All that money didn’t come to the local level and we’re the ones who won despite that.
On the other hand, there are several elements Ambrose brings to the table. For one thing, she built up the Young Republican organization in the state, and a number of those alumni are the ones who began seeking local office two years ago or were the backbone of several successful campaigns.
Secondly, Ambrose was involved at the national level for several years with the YRNF, which dwarfs the year-long national involvement of Scott. Because she was surely looked upon as a caretaker for the Maryland party, did Audrey Scott gain the contacts that Ambrose seems to have? I didn’t see Audrey’s name on the invitation for the recent Allen West MDGOP fundraiser, but Nicolee was instrumental in putting it together.
That also goes in line with Nicolee’s approach to fundraisers. The MDGOP seems to put all its eggs in one basket, holding an annual Red, White, and Blue Dinner. I’ll grant that the exact methods we use for fundraising are more of a decision for the MDGOP Chair, but why not try other fundraising ideas and spread them around the state? I think Nicolee would be much more open to new ideas than Audrey would be.
Finally, there’s the question of generational change. Audrey Scott represents a Maryland Republican Party that’s afraid to change and scared of its own shadow. While at this time I’m not confusing Nicolee Ambrose for a street fighter, at least the potential to make her one is there. And with Pope at her side to show her the ropes on a national level, Maryland could have a future star in the making.
Of course there are some who will tell you differently. The other day I received a letter that claimed Audrey Scott “has produced results.” They go on to state Audrey “was able to eliminate over $250,000 in debt” and “is responsible for the fantastic Victory Centers which allowed our down the ballot candidates to succeed. Due to her leadership the Republican Party now has majorities in 15 counties.” This is signed by a group of “young guns” in the party.
But since they argue Audrey will “continue to look for new ways for our Party to innovate,” let me ask: what was new about spending money on Victory Centers? We just happened to have someone from our state in charge of the Republican Party at the time and a Congressional seat they wanted to win. What if Andy Harris had won in 2008 – would they have gone all-out to preserve his seat rather than gain it? In all this, Audrey and her allies stress the results of the one year she spent as Chair – at a time when the pendulum was swinging our way anyhow thanks to liberal overreach – as the reason she should be National Committeewoman.
With Louis Pope vs. Scott Shaffer it’s almost a case of six of one and a half-dozen of the other, but in the National Committeewoman race I believe the decision is clear: If you want the party to advance and not run in its same old place, Nicolee Ambrose is by far the better choice.
And as I said earlier, there are a lot of Central Committee members who have supposedly made their choice by backing Scott. But I suspect they must be quite happy with the status quo because under Scott that’s the way it’s going to stay. I’m looking for a change because, quite frankly, based on previous results the Maryland Republican Party can’t do a whole lot worse.