Sunday, June 10, 2012

Red White and Blue: Dissecting a Dinner

Last night was the Maryland Republican Party’s annual “Red White and Blue Dinner," which I attended as the guest of Baltimore County Councilman David Marks. 

I stopped going to those things a number of years ago, but attended my first one in about a decade last year at the request of incoming National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose. You see, I’m not much of a schmoozer or a glad-hander, but I digress.

Anyway, last year’s dinner – held at the BWI Marriott, the same place as this year’s dinner – was something of a bust. Despite having a nationally known speaker, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the room was about half empty, and I heard that the party only netted a small amount.

What a difference a year makes.

Last night, the room was filled to capacity, as about 500 people showed up to hear Karl Rove – famously (or perhaps infamously) known as “The Architect” or “Bush’s Brain” – give his thoughts on the GOP’s prospects here in Maryland and nationally. The party claims to have netted $100,000 through the event.

Here are some of the highlights of the evening from my perspective.

The event got off to a rocky start thanks to former Baltimore County GOP Chairman Tony Campbell, who was called upon to give the benediction, and promptly embarrassed himself. He began by reminding guests of “the pain” he was experiencing in his life a year ago, and crediting his recovery to his “faith in God.” Clearly he was referring to his ouster as Baltimore County Chairman after a short and controversial tenure. After delivering his uncomfortable catharsis, Campbell launched into his prayer, and then a rambling discussion of his work as chairman of “Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation,” the group working to get the state’s congressional redistricting plan back on the ballot.

One can argue that Campbell’s work with that group has helped rehabilitate his image. But, one can also argue that, by invoking the chairmanship controversy so publicly and portraying himself as a Job-like figure in the process, he did himself more harm than good.

Frederick County Commissioner and gubernatorial hopeful Blaine Young read a list of all GOP elected officials in attendance. When he got to the name of Delegate Pat McDonough, the applause was decidedly underwhelming.  

As for Rove, he spoke for about 20 minutes. His remarks were of the “rally the troops” variety, rather than the discussion of 2012 Electoral College math I was hoping for. But, it was still a fine speech. He pointed out that the GOP has recently gained 11,000 new voters in Maryland, while the Democrats have added only 7,000. He offered hope to Maryland Republicans by reminding them how Texas, once hopelessly Democratic, is now solidly red. That’s a fair point, I suppose, but Texas was always more Democratic than ideologically progressive before it flipped, whereas Maryland is both.

The most interesting point of the speech was when Karl Rove recognized young activist Jessica Fugate from the dais. Fugate, once an active Goucher College Republican, arranged for Rove to speak at the school. Rove remembered her and cited her as an example of one of the party’s budding leaders. I hope the efforts of someone like Fugate, along with Nicolee Ambrose and Hillary Foster Pennington, are indicative of a trend of younger GOP activist women stepping into leadership roles in the party.

All in all, I thought it was a fine event. My only two pet peeves: 1) At $200 a ticket, the fact that it operated on a cash bar basis seems disappointing, although I’m sure it was economically necessary; 2) the book signing component of the evening was a bit chaotic, and would have benefitted by establishing a designated signing table/area.

As for the heightened attendance at this year’s versus last year’s event, certainly interest in Rove was a big factor. But, I think you can argue that dissatisfaction with Governor O’Malley and the Democrats’ activities in Annapolis, and an influx of new energy and leaders into the party, were contributing factors as well.

Consider these facts (which were included on a handout distributed by the MD GOP at the dinner):

  • Republicans control 15 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions.
  • There are 158 locally elected Republicans compared to 157 Democrats.
  • 17 of Maryland’s jurisdictions consistently vote Republican in statewide elections.
  • Every GOP presidential and gubernatorial nominee has carried a majority of the state’s counties.
  • The GOP is now the majority party in 11 of the state’s 24’s jurisdictions. Four of these counties flipped in just the past two years.
Are Democrats in danger of losing their majority status in Maryland anytime soon? No. But the MD GOP continues to demonstrate growing local and regional strength. Anytime you see a sign of life in the state’s beleaguered minority party, it is a good thing.

And, last night, I left the dinner with the clear sense that the MD GOP definitely has a growing pulse. 

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