Swing state Republicans are plotting an overhaul of their state parties’ leadership structure after a string of high-profile defeats this election cycle that saw the GOP fail to capitalize on a much predicted “red wave.”
GOP operatives in prime swing states like Arizona, Michigan and New Hampshire say their individual state parties need to be better prepared for 2024. Not only are the states key to a potential GOP White House victory, several also hold key contests that could determine control of the US Senate and House Representatives.
In Virginia, for instance, the state party can decide whether it holds a primary or convention to determine nominees for local and federal offices. At times, both formats have been used to weed out candidates who have strong support from the party base but are too controversial to win a general election.
While not all states have the power, state party chairmen still hold significant influence. The post is responsible for fundraising, recruiting candidates and volunteers, and being the party’s public face.
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Republicans learned just how damaging the publicity issue could be in Arizona, where firebrand state party chair Kelli Ward has presided over a loss of two US Senate seats and the governorships. Ward, a strong ally of former President Donald Trump, led efforts to nullify President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state.
Ward’s insistence that the election was administered improperly created divisions with outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. The fighting culminated in Ward leading the Arizona GOP in censoring Ducey for certifying the 2020 election results.
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“Kelli Ward has led our party into a deep morass with no real plan for the future,” said Karrin Taylor Robson, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor of Arizona this cycle.
Taylor Robson is one of several Republicans who have called on Ward to resign after the GOP lost high-profile races for governor and Senate this year. Ward has already announced that she is not running for another term.
Ward’s departure has opponents mobilize to ensure her replacement does not adopt a similar course of action.
“This was a reliably red state that has shifted blue in recent years, part of that is because of population growth and demographics,” said one longtime donor to the Arizona GOP. “But part of it is because we shifted too far out of the mainstream. Republican voters went to the polls in large numbers this November, but many opted not to vote straight GOP because of candidate quality.”
A similar reckoning is taking place in Michigan. The state’s GOP chairman is forgoing re-election after the party lost a competitive race for governor and several US House seats.
Two candidates who came up short this year are already running for the post. Matt DePerno, who lost his bid for state attorney general this year, has already announced his candidacy for party chair. Also in the contest is Kristina Karamo, the GOP’s failed candidate for secretary of state this cycle.
Both DePerno and Karamo backed Trump’s claims of serious electoral fraud during the 2020 election. The candidacies come despite the Michigan GOP warning that the excessive focus on controversial intra-party issues hurt Republicans this cycle.
“As a Party, we found ourselves consistently navigating the power struggle between Trump and anti-Trump factions of the Party, mostly within the donor class,” Paul Corders, the Michigan GOP’s chief of staff, wrote in a post-election autopsy. “That power struggle ended with too many people on the sidelines and hurt Republicans in key races.”
Despite Karamo and DePerno jumping into the race, several more moderate Republicans are eyeing challenges but have yet to announce. The moderates, according to a Michigan-based political strategist, are aiming to coalesce around one candidate in an effort not to split the vote.
A slightly different situation is taking place in New Hampshire. Incumbent GOP chairman Stephen Stepanek is stepping aside after leading the party for four years.
While Stepanek’s tenure saw Republicans keep the governorship and win back control of the state legislature, the GOP also failed to carry the state in 2020 and lost competitive races for the Senate and US House in 2022.
Chris Ager, the current GOP national committeeman for New Hampshire, said he’s running to build off the state party’s success while making it more federally competitive.
“The current leadership has had a very good run here even though New England is a tough environment,” said Ager. “I want to take that to the next level by expanding our fundraising operation.”
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Ager is planning on creating a fundraising committee and hiring a finance director to boost the party’s coffer. He also wants to streamline the party’s infrastructure to help candidates for state and federal office.
“I’ve spoken to all our statewide and federal candidates to see what we can do to be more helpful,” Ager said. “All of this is in service to a bigger goal. A more succinctly structured operation helps everyone from the presidential level to the state house.”