Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Audrey Scott Lost

Last Saturday, Audrey Scott lost a political race which – if history serves as any guide – she definitely should have won.

On paper, Mrs. Scott – a forty year fixture in the party – had all the illustrious credentials you would expect in a successful National Committeewoman candidate: former party chair, state cabinet secretary, local experience as a council member and mayor, and ex-Reagan Administration aide.

This distinguished background aligns roughly with the backgrounds of previous women who have held the position during the past 20 years: Joyce Tehres (former party chair and local official), Ellen Sauerbrey (former House Minority Leader and 1994 gubernatorial nominee), and Helen Bentley (congresswoman and ex-Nixon Administration appointee).

So why did Mrs. Scott lose? For me, it boils down to these four reasons:

1) She had a terrific opponent: As I blogged earlier, Nicolee Ambrose’s accomplishments and potential as a party leader is something I noticed long before we ever became friends. When incumbent Joyce Tehres announced she was retiring, Nicolee hit the ground running. She assembled a team of advisors, including Prince George’s County Central Committee Member Heather Olsen, who served as Ambrose’s campaign manager, and began crisscrossing the state, meeting with central committees. Ambrose immediately began lining up endorsements, and had a social media presence weeks before Mrs. Scott’s own campaign Facebook page debuted. As this was happening, Mrs. Scott – comfortable in the inevitability of her succession – and her supporters chose to dismiss Ambrose’s credentials and legitimacy as a candidate. In other words, Ambrose regarded the upcoming central committee vote as a race to be won, whereas Mrs. Scott treated it like a mere formality to her anointed ascension until the final week of the campaign.

2)  She had baggage: Mrs. Scott’s brief stint as MD GOP chairman was not without its controversies. The Rule 11 controversy simmered in many activists’ minds, as did the party’s failure to recruit an Attorney General candidate even though Montgomery County activist Jim Shalleck offered to run. Later, Mrs. Scott’s decision to intervene in the Sixth District congressional primary angered supporters of the incumbent and eventual winner Roscoe Bartlett. In other words, running for National Committeewoman and working to defeat the state's senior GOP congressman by portraying his reelection prospects as “impossible” proved to be mutually contradictory goals.

3)  Her missteps and misstatements created controversies: Mrs. Scott did a lot of things you would not expect a candidate running for National Committeewoman to do. First, she kicked off her campaign by attending a pro-gas tax rally in Annapolis, and misrepresented the event’s real purpose in a message to central committee members when her actions were questioned. Next, she made false claims as to her fundraising results while chairman, and refused to budge when confronted with the actual numbers. Indeed, Mrs. Scott seemed to following the following pattern for much of the campaign: She made statements demonstrably contrary to the facts and, when confronted with the facts, chose to ignore them, instead repeating the false claim with increased volume and fervency. In the end, her own words proved to be her biggest liability.

4) Her negative attacks on Ambrose backfired: Ambrose never personally attacked Mrs. Scott during the campaign. By contrast, Mrs. Scott and her supporters engaged in a Mean Girls - style whispering campaign against Ambrose, with much of the chatter centering on whether Ambrose – a mother of two young children – could make time for the position’s duties. Ironically, when Mrs. Scott launched her political career in the 1970s, she was about the same age as Ambrose and had young children as well. This bitchiness hit its crescendo when one of the people delivering Scott’s nominating speeches, a 17 year old boy, stated that central committee members should not, “send a girl to do a woman’s job.” He was booed and hissed off the stage as a result. Though not decisive to Ambrose's win, a Scott backer I spoke to at the convention claimed that statement cost Mrs. Scott at least three wavering votes in his county's delegation.

Excluding 2012, the race for National Committeewoman has only been a competitive affair one time during the past 24 years. That was in 1988, when Helen Bentley beat conservative activist Mary McNally Rose in what was seen as an ideological struggle between the party’s conservative and moderate wings.

But since then, succession has largely been a matter of consensus. The position was typically rewarded to the next most senior GOP woman in the queue, and the central committee vote was merely a ratification of the obvious.

This year, however, frustration and a yearning for new direction and energy changed the paradigm. The post had become a prize to be earned, rather than an entitlement to be rewarded. Unfortunately, no one told Mrs. Scott the rules had changed, and she assumed that it was hers because, well, it should be hers.  Meanwhile, Ambrose sensed the sea change. Her dynamism, track record at the national level, and forward-looking campaign message proved a better match for the evolving expectations for the position held by many central committee members.

To me, the race is the Tortoise versus the Hare scenario revisited. Only this time, the Hare – Ambrose – took the race seriously. As a result, the Tortoise – Scott, lulled into a sense of overconfidence by past wins and ways – never stood a chance. Consequently, in the end, the better candidate running the better campaign won. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Audrey Scott: "I cannot support her Chicago-style of politics"

Below is the text of an email sent by Dorchester County GOP Central Committee Chairman John McCullough to other Central Committee members. Other than removing Mr. McCullough's email address, it is completely unedited by me.
From: John McCullough Jr.
Subject: Upcoming MDGOP National Committeewoman Vote
To: "John McCullough Jr.
Date: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 9:57 AM
Fellow Central Committee Members,

Since it became painfully obvious that this letter needed to be written, I have been trying to think of the best way to say it… I will start by saying that voting well is hard. We get little more than a snapshot most of the time, and that’s among those of us who are paying attention. To those not paying attention (far too many people these days), they are just clicking a name when they vote. We get a five or ten minute speech, a website to look at, the candidate’s best smile, and off we go to vote.

Bottom line is, information is vital to a well-cast vote. I have been trying to like and support Audrey Scott since the first meeting she came to at our central committee when she was running for party chair. I have to admit, she did a good job with a tough situation when she took over. I also have to admit that she has an impressive political resume. But my first evaluation of a candidate is based on character and how they stand up to conservative principles, and this is where Audrey has fallen down.

The first event that concerned me was the Rule 11 waiver (that by now, most of you are familiar with) that threw the primary process, not to mention a lot of republican voters, to the curb in support of the “establishment” candidate who happened to be good buddies with Audrey and our two national committee persons. This did not have to happen, and as it turned out, did nothing to help elect that candidate. Some say Audrey, Louis and Joyce were being good “team players” in this decision. In response, I will point you to Sharon Day, National Committeewoman in Florida, who refused to sign Rule 11 down there when asked, and that refusal paved the way for none other than Marco Rubio to have a fair race for his Senate seat. Any of you want to throw Marco Rubio under the bus in the name of “the team”? Here is a quote from Sharon Day…

“You also have the right to know the reason I did not sign the Rule 11 Letter, in the event you missed the articles in the news media. I want to ensure that the Republican voters of Florida have an opportunity to select their candidate in a fair and balanced primary. It was always about the process and not the personalities.”

THAT is leadership FOR THE PEOPLE.

More recently, the Quad County Caucus (four lower eastern shore counties who get together before conventions to talk about the coming issues) held a meeting a week and a half ago, where it was my turn to lead the meeting, and in talking to the other county chairs, we decided we did not need any candidates there, but would rather just discuss amongst ourselves. So three days before the meeting I wrote the National Committee Candidates and specifically told them not to come to the meeting. Audrey came anyway. Then I pulled Audrey aside, surprised and discouraged that she was even there, and told her I could not give her time to speak about her campaign because it would not be fair to the other candidates who heeded our request. I thought we had an understanding. I opened the floor for a few event announcements and next thing I know Audrey stands up and asks if she can say a few words. I said “as long as it isn’t about your candidacy”. She promptly proceeds to talk about her candidacy for a few minutes. So what am I to think? She had just forced herself, with multiple clear statements about the process we had decided on, past the will and intent of our meeting.

Not only did she talk about her candidacy, but she said things that some of us in the room knew to be patently false. One, regarding names placed on her website where she claimed that she personally asked for all of those endorsements, when we know from first hand testimony that she didn’t, or twisted a generic comment about supporting “all the candidates who want to run” into an endorsement that got another name on her list. The second is the claim about how much money she raised as chair. This is still being looked into, but according to state GOP financial reports, she has overstated those amounts by large margins.

One chair of another county has stated that we, as central committee members, ARE the “establishment”. I reject that line of thinking. There are many of us who are trying to represent voters and, as Sharon Day put it, “the process” as well as candidates. We are in the central committee, among other things, to stand against the tyranny of government… to represent ALL of the voters who put us in office. It is a shame when we have to first fight tyranny within our own party, before we can fight it in government in general, but this is what I find myself doing in the case of Audrey and the rest of the “good ole boys” club in MD politics . She has shown me a willingness to have an extreme top-down, “I am in charge”, “it’s my way or the highway”, “we know what’s best for you, just shut up and fall in line” view of leadership. That is not what I am looking for.

I was not a Nicolee Ambrose supporter when this process started. I had never met her. But now I have met her, and I am glad that she is there, as a perfectly good and qualified alternative to Audrey, because as I have watched Audrey, I have found that I cannot support her Chicago-style of politics. We have enough of that in Washington already. We don’t need any more of it in Maryland. I hope this helps you committee members cast a more educated vote this coming Saturday… for that is the only intent of this email.


John McCullough Jr.
Chairman, Dorchester County Republican Central Committee
"Trying to be salt and light, by God's grace... and encouraging others to do the same"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Audrey Scott the Fictional Fundraiser, Part II

On April 12th, National Committeewoman wannabe Audrey Scott spoke to a group in Frederick. A copy of the audio from her 8 minute presentation was just shared with me. Click here to hear it. (Apologies, but the volume is a little low).

There’s not too much out of the ordinary here, although I did note that Mrs. Scott took the opportunity to repeat two questionable claims about her fundraising record as MD GOP chair.

First, at the 6:09 mark: “We (MD GOP) had two staff members and they had not been paid for five months.”

She made a similar statement in her debate with Nicolee Ambrose in Montgomery County. I addressed it in this blog post.

Next, at the 6:43 mark: “And by the end of the year, I had raised $1.5 million dollars.”

Monoblogue’s Michael Swartz has taken an exhaustive look at Mrs. Scott’s fundraising claims. He found that the $1.5 million fundraising claim is a gross exaggeration, and that Mrs. Scott raised half that amount at best. This does not include the so-called RNC Victory Fund monies – claimed by Mrs. Scott to total $1 million, but in reality aid from the RNC totaled no more than about $356,000 depending upon how you calculate it.

So, while Mrs. Scott has claimed to have brought in a grand total of $2.5 million - RNC and non-RNC monies combined - for the party during her chairmanship, the numbers show she raised only about 40 percent of that amount. 

To quote Ronald Reagan: “Facts are stubborn things.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

So Which Is It, Audrey?

From the say or do anything to be elected school of politics…

“For 20 years, Congressman Bartlett has been a strong fiscal conservative in Congress.”

Audrey Scott, in a letter to the editor published in the Gazette newspaper February 3, 2012

“Roscoe Bartlett’s liberal voting record is wrong for America and it is wrong for Republicans”

Audrey Scott quoted in campaign mailing, April 2, 2012

So, which alleged Bartlett, the liberal or the conservative, will Mrs. Scott be supporting this fall?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Nicolee, Now

I have blogged quite a bit about the National Committeewoman’s race - maybe even too much, some might say. And, I have certainly had a jolly old time pointing out the serial gaffes, misrepresentations, and embellishments of one of the candidates.

But it occurred to me that I have yet to articulate why I think Nicolee Ambrose is the ideal person for the job.

I know what you’re thinking…because she’s a friend of mine. But that really isn’t the reason. 

In fact, I saw Nicolee as an outstanding potential National Committeewoman before I really even got to know her personally. 

Our mutual friend Gineen Bresso, now running for Congress in Florida, served in the Young Republican National Federation with Nicolee, and used to regale me with stories of all the programs and initiatives she and Nicolee were involved in.

For example, late in 2006, Nicolee hatched a plan to bring in busloads of young Republican activists from neighboring states to campaign door-to-door for Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele, and legislators in Western Maryland

When the political director of a beneficiary campaign arrogantly dismissed this no brainer of an idea, Nicolee was undaunted. Instead, she did what you’d expect a skilled problem solver to do: looked elsewhere for the nominal funding needed, found it, and did it anyway.

So a busload of GOP partisans came into Western Maryland, the cost-effective event was hailed as a success, and the originally dismissive campaign aide was on hand at a subsequent event in Anne Arundel County to feign credit for the idea after its value had been demonstrated.

After hearing the story, I said, “See, THAT is who we need as National Committeewoman.”

I didn’t get to know Nicolee well until a few years after that. But when the announcement came that Joyce Tehres was stepping down, I was one of the first to encourage Nicolee to run. 

Nicolee is one of those energetic, dynamic individuals who seems to have a knack for organizing things, and for gently herding people, and the party, into the direction in which they should be headed.

She knows how to network, but I wouldn’t call her a schmoozer - that term implies a lack of authenticity. All the years I spent working in politics gave me an ability to identify and dismiss the shallow in record speed. 

Nicolee is authentic. At the heart of that authenticity: A transparent enthusiasm for growing the Republican Party.

Not only is she enthusiastic about it…she’s pretty good at it, too.

As YRNF Chairman, she turned an obscure organization into a real player in GOP politics. 

You can gauge this by looking at the caliber of the individuals who participated in YRNF events during her watch: President George W. Bush, NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Actor/former Senator Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Charlie Crist, Governor Bobby Jindal, Congressman Steve Scalise, Governor Bob Ehrlich and Lt Governor Michael Steele, Senator George Voinovich, and RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, just to name a few. 

And she proved herself to be a doer, too. 

In 2006 she created from scratch the YRNF’s "Targeted State" national deployment program, which achieved successful results despite 2006 being a dismal year for Republicans.  

During her tenure as YRNF chair, YR national affiliated activities raised well over $600,000.

You can tell when people are succeeding in politics, because they keep getting additional assignments. 

In 2008, Nicolee led nationwide organizations targeting young professionals for two presidential campaigns: Fred Thompson and McCain/Palin.

And, in between all that politicking, Nicolee managed to hold down a pretty impressive day job as a presidentially-appointed Special Assistant at the Bush Labor Department, where she pushed for conservative priorities including increased transparency for union dues.

And, here in Maryland, Nicolee has been busy, too. She is a member of the MD GOP Finance Committee, and just recently organized a successful fundraiser with Congressman Allen West of Florida

Yet another sign of her enthusiasm: She has worked for scores of local candidates and causes, and has never once  been paid for doing it.

The reason I think Nicolee is the best candidate for National Committeewoman is she has the energy and enthusiasm the job needs – not to mention the national contacts and experience her opponent, a fixture of Maryland GOP politics for 40 years, lacks.

I have no doubt Audrey Scott could ably fulfill the traditional, ceremonial, mashed potato circuit role past National Committeewomen have played. But Nicolee Ambrose has the skills to make it something more. 

In terms of what the position should be, I point to Jill Homan, just elected National Committeewoman for the District of Columbia, as an example. Jill also happens to be a friend of mine, as well as a fellow veteran of Ehrlich world.  

Jill defeated her better-known, establishment opponent after waging a high energy, shoe-leather campaign. Now, despite being in her new role for less than three weeks, she has already hit the ground running, aggressively stumping for the party’s newly-minted nominees. 

Nicolee Ambrose is willing to accept all the traditional duties of National Committeewoman, yet also deliver new value in the areas of communications, fundraising, and grassroots development. She promises deliverables, and is willing to be held accountable for them.

So, that’s why I think Nicolee is the better candidate. It really has nothing to do with our friendship.  It has to do with her accomplishments and – most importantly – her potential. 

She is not what the party needed 40 years ago, or may need 40 years in the future.

She is what the party needs right now. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Remembering Willie Don"

At the request of June Smith, widow of the late great Voice of Reason, here is a piece I wrote for the "Friends of Ron Smith" website. In it I mark the first anniversary of another Maryland icon who passed in 2011: William Donald Schaefer. 


Monday, April 16, 2012

Audrey Scott's Anti-Roscoe Robocall

Below is the text of a robocall which Audrey Scott fielded on behalf of David Brinkley, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s primary opponent, during the weekend before the election.

“My name is Audrey Scott and I’m the past chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. Yesterday I received a poll which showed that David Brinkley was tied with Roscoe Bartlett. And then today I witnessed Roscoe Bartlett unleash a disgusting and toxic personal attack against David Brinkley and his family.  In my 50 years of Republican involvement, I have never seen such ugly behavior by a Republican official.  Mr. Bartlett’s negative attack on David Brinkley’s family represents a new low for Republicans in Maryland. A healthy debate on issues is fair. But to go after a fellow Republican’s family just because you are losing is an act of desperation and, frankly, it is out of bounds.  No one has a right to a congressional seat. We are not a kingdom. We are a democracy. It is a right that needs to be earned each and every day. David Brinkley has earned that right, and he did so with honor. Please join me in rejecting Roscoe Bartlett’s desperate and negative attacks, and please join me in supporting David Brinkley for Congress. Thank you.”

I have an audio file of the call, too, which I finally figured out how to upload.  If you have problems hearing this, email me and I will send you my original.

Um, I have several reactions.

First, Bartlett beat Brinkley by a rounded margin of 44 percent to 20 percent, which makes me wonder if the poll Mrs. Scott is touting actually exists. As we have seen recently, she is not averse to embellishing the truth – including her alleged fundraising success as party chairman – to serve her own political ends.

Second, in light of this attack and her earlier statements questioning Bartlett’s electability, one has to wonder if Mrs. Scott can credibly support Bartlett now that he is in the fight of his political life with financier John Delaney. My guess is that Delaney's campaign will make eager use of Mrs. Scott's attacks on Bartlett in their own campaign materials. 

Third, we don’t live in a democracy. We live in a republic.

Lastly, Mrs. Scott says that, “No one has a right to a congressional seat.” Well, no one has a right to a seat on the Republican National Committee, either.  Through a series of past and recent missteps – including attending a gas tax rally, embellishing her fundraising as party chairman, her Bartlett bashing, fudging endorsements, and her involvement in the Rule 11 fiasco – it appears Mrs. Scott is working hard to disqualify herself from serving in the national committeewoman role she regards as a personal entitlement.

"I have never seen such ugly behavior by a Republican official," Mrs. Scott states.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Audrey Scott and the 2010 AG's Race

In a letter to the members of the GOP State Central Committee, Montgomery County activist Jim Shalleck weighs in on yet another controversy involving former GOP Chairman Audrey Scott: Her failure to identify – or, some might allege, her deliberate efforts to obstruct the party from fielding – a candidate for Attorney General.

As a result, incumbent Attorney General Doug Gansler began the 2016 election cycle with $2.7 million already in the bank.

This is a fundraising windfall for which even a dubious, eager, shameless credit grabber as Mrs. Scott is probably unwilling to claim responsibility.


April, 2012

Dear Fellow Maryland Republican:

Two years ago Maryland Republicans failed to run a candidate for Attorney General. This might be considered ancient history, except now Audrey Scott wants to become National Committeewoman on the strength of her performance as State Chairman.

So what happened? Here is the background: At the very last minute, on the candidate filing deadline of July 6 2010, the candidate the Republican State party had expected to enter the Attorney General race, failed to do so.

Having been chair of my own county’s Candidate Recruitment Committee, I know sometimes prospective candidates get cold feet at the last minute. Fortunately the state election laws give political parties a 15 day grace period to designate a candidate if none has filed.

While I had previously declined to run for Attorney General, I was willing to do so after no other candidate came forward. Before going to work in the Reagan Justice Department, I was one of the prosecutors in the "Son of Sam" case in New York City. Over the years I have run several times for Montgomery County State's Attorney. I have also been a frequent contributor on CBS News on criminal justice issues. In 2007 and 2008 I was the chair of the Maryland McCain for President primary campaign and later in 2008 interim Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.

My availability was communicated to the State Party within 48 hours of the filing deadline.

At first nothing happened. Most importantly the State Party failed to issue the required ten day notice for an Executive Committee meeting to be held in order to designate a candidate. Then, news accounts began focusing on the state party's failure to field a candidate.

Here is where the story begins to get murkier.

The State Party told the Gazette that "one" county chairman failed to waive the meeting notice requirement. Ryan Mahoney, the GOP's political director told the Gazette.1 "As the state party is concerned, we did everything in our power to get somebody on the ballot." He told the paper that party bylaws require executive committee meetings to be announced at least 10 days beforehand, but that the rule can be waived with the unanimous consent of all 24 local central committee chairs.

In the same story Audrey Scott said: “I very much wanted to have a candidate on the ballot, but I have to defer to the process and the procedure, and I understand entirely if someone did not think waiving the rules was appropriate. It's their right. I'm not going to deny someone their opinion in that kind of situation."

To the Baltimore Sun, Audrey called Gansler "one lucky guy." 2 She said that party paperwork prevented her from being able to put his name forward. The Sun further commented that "The failure of the GOP to field a candidate was striking, given Gansler's vocal support for gay marriage, a position which has put him to the left of many Maryland Democrats."

Now the story gets even stranger.

No County Chairman has ever come forward to say they blocked or objected to the meeting. In fact, no County Chairman remembers even getting an email, phone call or other notice requesting a special Executive Committee meeting. At the next Executive Committee meeting, in August 2010, Audrey Scott was expressly asked to reveal who objected to holding the designation meeting. She declined to do so, citing the person's "confidentiality."

Audrey’s grant of "confidentiality" is extraordinary, since she was under no obligation to protect the person from public disclosure.

Since 2010, there has been no end of finger pointing. Some suggest, without any evidence, that the Ehrlich campaign "reached an accommodation" with Doug Gansler that he could run opposed. The Ehrlich campaign sources categorically deny this.

Some have even pointed the finger at then Baltimore County Chairman Chris Cavey, who at the time was also working for the Ehrlich campaign. In fairness to Chris, though, he says he was never even contacted by the state party about a possible designation meeting and I believe him.

Now that Audrey Scott wants to be National Committeewoman, she must finally end the mystery.

  • If Audrey really wanted an Attorney General candidate to run, why didn't she call a designation meeting in a timely manner?
  • If a County Chair blocked the meeting, why didn't she use the threat of public exposure to encourage the objector to relent and let the meeting go forward?
  • And, if someone else really did block the designation meeting, shouldn't Audrey reveal who they are now?
  • If instead Audrey herself blocked an Attorney General candidate from running, shouldn't she finally admit it and publicly explain her reasons?

Bottom line: No County Chairmen has ever said they were opposed to a meeting to designate a candidate. Audrey Scott either needs to say who it was or else take direct, personal responsibility for the failure of the Maryland Republican Party to field an Attorney General candidate in 2010. If she is will not do this, she should not be National Committeewoman.

Best regards,
/s/ Jim
Jim Shalleck


Monday, April 9, 2012

From the "Frederick News Post"...

Here is a piece I wrote about both upcoming GOP National Committee Member races.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Audrey Scott the Fictional Fundraiser: Part One

One of Audrey Scott’s most often repeated selling points for her National Committeewoman candidacy is her alleged fundraising prowess.

For example, last Thursday, during a debate in Montgomery County with her opponent Nicolee Ambrose, Scott claimed that longtime party staffer Marcia Jicka, “had not been paid in three months” prior to Scott's becoming chairman, and that her ascension made it possible for Jicka to be paid once again. 

But according to reports filed with the FEC in December 2009 – after Scott became chairman – Jicka received at least two payments during the period of time in question. The records show that Jicka received $1683.04 on both October 8 and October 15, 2009, before Scott's chairmanship.

For the record, this information was provided to me via screenshot by one of the spectators at the Montgomery County debate. This witness to Scott’s remark commented: “So, either Audrey is a liar, or Audrey filed a false campaign finance report. Take your pick.”

During her National Committeewoman campaign, Scott has been perpetuating the image that a fundraising miracle occurred during her brief tenure as chair. I plan to look into Scott’s fundraising record as chairman in order to divorce myth from reality.

Of special interest to me is the money MD GOP received from the RNC to launch the so-called “Victory Centers” benefiting Bob Ehrlich and Andy Harris’ campaigns. Funding for these controversial Victory Centers was at the heart of the Rule 11 controversy.

In a recent email to activists, she pegged the amount at $1 million. But, shortly after the 2010 election, a member of the MD GOP staff told me that the RNC did not deliver the full amount originally promised, and that the amount actually received was closer to $250,000.

Anyway, I’m going to do some digging, and will hopefully pinpoint the actual number. Stay tuned. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dan Bongino for U. S. Senate

As a blogger, I think I can make my most valuable contribution to the zeitgeist by offering analysis of events and issues, rather than opining as to the strengths of any given candidate for elective office. This is why I typically don’t offer endorsements, let alone pre-primary endorsements.

By special request, however, I am going to make an exception to that rule and weigh in on the GOP contest for the United States Senate.

A bevy of candidates are running for a prize probably not worth very much in the end: The right to challenge incumbent Senator Ben Cardin. The standout candidates include former Secret Service agent and businessman Dan Bongino and naval veteran and former congressional staffer Richard Douglas.
Both of these men seem like decent candidates. Both have their respective strengths. But tomorrow I will vote for Dan Bongino.
Bongino’s greatest strength as a candidate is the unorthodox path which brought him to politics. Indeed, his candidacy almost has a screenplay cadence to it: Former Secret Service candidate who, frustrated by politics, decides to enter the fray himself.
His unique story made him immediately appealing to the media, and Bongino wisely leveraged these unearned media opportunities to demonstrate himself to be an articulate, substantive candidate.  On the stump he comes across as passionate, sincere, and charismatic.  The man definitely has an “it” factor when it comes to politics – the kind of thing that is easier to recognize than to define.  But once you recognize it, you have to respect it. 
Mr. Douglas’s strengths are his federal credentials: Justice Department, Congress, Pentagon, Foreign Service. Unfortunately, however, Maryland’s political landscape is littered with the bodies of past Senate candidates with strong Washington credentials but scant ties to Maryland - including Alan Keyes, Linda Chavez, and Bill Brock. Mr. Douglas may be a native Marylander, but a newcomer when it comes to the political landscape – as is Ambassador John Bolton, his chief campaign cheerleader, and a native Baltimorean largely unknown in Maryland.
In all fairness, Mr. Bongino is also a newcomer.  But, he seems to have compensated for this by connecting among activists and the kinds of people you need to win primary elections very quickly. Among all candidates running for elective office this year, his candidacy has generated the most excitement. Given the challenges facing Maryland Republicans, the importance of this asset cannot be overstated.
Now, just to make myself clear: Barring a seismic event on Maryland’s political landscape, Senator Cardin will be reelected.
But a respectable showing by Bongino might position him for future opportunities within the party, assuming he decides to stay involved and active in Maryland. There are a lot of empty seats on the MD GOP’s leadership bench at the moment.  I think Bongino could fill one as effortlessly he transitioned from presidential protector to political candidate.
As far as the 2012 U. S. Senate race is concerned, I see no opportunities for Republicans to win here. But, Dan Bongino’s potential resonates beyond 2012.  For that reason, he has my support.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Q & A: Scott Shaffer, Candidate for Republican National Committeeman

I asked Anne Arundel County Central Committee member Scott Shaffer, now a candidate for Republican National Committeeman, to elaborate on the reasons why he is challenging two-term Committeeman Louis Pope. Below are the three questions I asked him, and his unedited responses.

1) What prompted you to run?

When Bob Ehrlich won the governor’s race in 2002, it was supposed to usher in a new era for the Maryland Republican Party. Since then however, the Maryland Republican Party has not won any statewide elections. In the last election, the party did not even field a full slate of candidates for those statewide contests. In a year in which Republicans saw huge gains in many other states, we lost seats in the state senate (where 15% of the seats went uncontested). The modest gains we saw in the House of Delegates came from candidates like Herb McMillan in my district, who ran strong campaigns independent of the mainstream party – they won despite having an (R) next to their name rather than because of it. In a rematch of gubernatorial candidates, we received fewer votes than we did four years earlier. Internally, our state party was consumed with infighting, in part over a Rule 11 waiver requested by the National Committeeman.

In short, we’ve been going backwards for far too long. It’s time to move forward. Two years ago we cleaned house and replaced most of the party officers with much-needed new blood. Now, it’s time to complete the process. I decided to run because I don’t want to see us repeat the past eight years. We need a different approach, and I believe my approach to the position would move the party forward while the incumbent would continue with business as usual.

2) What role should the national committeeman play other than those functions presently fulfilled by the incumbent and historically by his predecessors?

Ultimately, the only function of the state party that matters is to get Republicans elected in Maryland. In the past, the National Committeeman has been more of a behind-the-scenes fundraiser. Fundraising alone doesn’t win elections though if we don’t even have candidates on the ballot. Furthermore, many of our past fundraising efforts have been undercut by poor spending decisions, such as the low performing Victory Centers. Our problem isn’t that we can’t raise money; it’s that the money we do raise isn’t spent effectively.

There are also certain ceremonial functions that our National Committeeman has historically performed: serving on RNC subcommittees, attending numerous black-tie dinners, playing host at the national convention. These may raise a Committeeman’s national profile somewhat, but at the end of the day they don’t translate into votes within Maryland.

Finally, as the state party’s representative to the RNC, the county central committees should expect a certain level of constituent service from their National Committeeman. However, our current National Committeeman has focused almost exclusively on advancing RNC initiatives outside of Maryland rather than within. I don’t see how anyone can truly represent the interests of Maryland Republicans without being directly involved in their efforts. Being outnumbered 2:1 by Democrats, we need all hands on deck if we hope to make any inroads. As a party officer and voting member of the Executive Committee, the National Committeeman should be involved in all facets of the organization within the state as well. That includes building the brand, candidate recruitment, and strategic direction.

3) Why should state Republicans care about this election?

This election is not just about who our National Committeeman should be – it’s about what the National Committeeman should be. For too long, these positions have been treated as entitlements, and bestowed upon former party Chairs in unchallenged elections. They’ve been a reward for past service, when they should be based on future expectations. The State Central Committee has a unique opportunity at our upcoming convention to redefine the position in a way which will best serve our state party. This vote will be a sign to Maryland Republicans as to whether the state party is serious about gaining ground on the Democratic monopoly, or whether we’re content with the status quo.