Saturday, May 5, 2012

Two Myths About the National Committeewoman's Race

So, I thought I'd run out of things to say about the National Committeewoman’s race.

But reading news coverage of the race during the past week, I have noticed that two myths seem to have emerged.

Myth #1: The Ambrose – Scott race was an ideological content pitting “tea party” activists against “moderates.”

Myth #2: Audrey Scott lost because of a backlash against Bob Ehrlich.

Let me debunk the second myth first.

The Ehrlich angle was first mentioned in the Baltimore Sun’s coverage of Ambrose’s win:

In some ways, the contest shaped up as a showdown between Ehrlich loyalists and other Republicans — including some tea party activists — who are eager to move the party out of the shadow of the former governor, who led the GOP to defeat in the last two statewide elections.”

The same basic argument resurfaced in the Gazette story which appeared on May 4th, where Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Matthew Verghese is quoted as saying:

What you saw [at the state convention] was a backlash against Bob Ehrlich and any kind of moderation in the Republican Party,”

Now, anyone who reads this blog knows that I have not been shy about pointing out the foibles of the former governor and some of his aides.

And, while an anti-Ehrlich backlash might have cost his 2010 running mate Mary Kane the party chairmanship that year, I saw no evidence of it this time.

Ehrlich was invisible throughout the race, endorsing neither candidate.  Other than brief, occasional mention of him being a beneficiary of the Rule 11 waiver, his name barely surfaced.

Further, his most recognizable surrogates were nowhere to be seen in Solomons. Nor did I hear of them, or anyone close to the former governor, actively whipping or trying to drum up support for Mrs. Scott.

Lastly, the four years Mrs. Scott served as Secretary of Planning in the Ehrlich Administration comprised only a small part of a political career spanning 40 years.  Every indication is that questions about her chairmanship and subsequent activities, rather than her ties to Ehrlich,  damaged her campaign.

As for the first myth, a March 23, 2012 article in the Gazette quotes another Democratic activist, Matthew Crenson:

“In some ways, the fight between the two sides is similar to the struggle going on in the Republican Party at a national level, said political science professor emeritus Matthew Crenson. ‘It’s a fight between the tea party wing of the Republicans and the rest of the Republicans — only in miniature,' Crenson said.’”

Now, there have been high profile, ideologically-charged races across the country in which little known tea party activists have knocked off established political figures. The 2010 race in Delaware between Christine O’Donnell and former Governor and then-incumbent at-large Congressman Mike Castle is perhaps the marquee example.

I get why partisan Democrats like Verghese and Crenson would try to score political points by attributing every intraparty contest in the GOP to similar divisive forces. But the facts in the Ambrose-Scott race simply do not support this scenario.

During the National Committeewoman’s race, the following issues received attention at different times:
  • The Rule 11 controversy.
  • The party’s failure to field an Attorney General candidate in 2010.
  • The desirability of open primaries.
  • Mrs. Scott’s fundraising results as party chairman.
  • Mrs. Scott’s appearance at the gas tax rally.
  • Mrs. Scott’s work to defeat Congressman Roscoe Bartlett in the primary.
The first four issues pertained to intramural party process controversies, and do not in and of themselves point to any serious ideological schism.

Regarding the rally, Mrs. Scott insisted she attended the rally to boost Republican legislation to restore the integrity of the Transportation Trust Fund and not to support a gas tax hike. If this is true, this speaks to Mrs. Scott’s poor judgment and not her ideology.

Regarding Bartlett, Mrs. Scott initially touted his alleged unelectability as her reasons for supporting one of the congressman’s primary opponents who - incidentally - had hired the campaign management firm run by her son Lawrence, and then made contradictory comments about Bartlett’s voting record. This smacks of self-interest laced with political opportunism more than anything else.

Some of the news coverage of the race has framed the contest as between the party establishment versus an insurgency. I believe this statement is accurate, but if only taken in the proper context.

Audrey Scott and Nicolee Ambrose climbed the political ladder in two different ways. Mrs. Scott leveraged traditional party organizations in Maryland – such as the central committee and the Maryland Federation of Republican Women. While heavily active in MD GOP politics as a volunteer, fundraiser, and grassroots activist, the Young Republican National Federation was Ambrose’s vehicle of ascent up the party’s ranks.

So when Ambrose challenged Scott, a product of the cliquish Republican power structure in Maryland, her contrasting national background effectively gave her outsider status. But in the end, this was a contest between two mainstream party veterans.

In the end, Ambrose won because the race became a referendum on Mrs. Scott’s chairmanship and post-chairmanship activities. She built a broad change coalition consisting of several diverse elements. And, she articulated a vision for the future.

It really is that simple. 

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