State of disaster: State Republican parties across the country are in trouble

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State of disaster: State Republican parties across the country are in trouble

“It should surprise no one that real people with real money — the big donors who have historically funded the party apparatus — don’t want to invest in these clowns who have taken over and subsumed the Republican Party,” he said. said Jeff Timmer, the once-touted former Michigan GOP executive director and senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

Among some GOP officials in the state, the mood is grim. A Republican agent from Michigan, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized by the state party to comment, said of that state party: “They are in as bad a spot as a political party can be. They’re broke… Their president can’t even admit she lost a race. It’s obsolete.

The demise of GOP state parties could have a profound impact on the 2024 election. Agents fear hollowed-out outfits on key battlegrounds could leave the party vulnerable, especially as Democrats focus more on races state legislation. Traditionally, state parties perform grassroots political blocking and combating, from voter exclusion programs to data collection in municipal elections.

But not all Republicans are concerned. In fact, some argue that modern politics in the age of the super PAC makes state parties relics of the past.

“In this modern era of the Super PAC, state parties just don’t really matter,” said a national Republican operative who works on Senate races, on condition of anonymity to speak about internal political dynamics. . “There’s a lot of hand wringing and bullshit about party weakness…. Ultimately, whether the Michigan GOP is a train wreck will have no real impact on whether or not Michigan wins.

Yet even this agent noted that weak state parties could have adverse effects on less publicized state races. And others see potentially significant consequences for next year’s ballot.

Democrats, for their part, say they see an opening and are now stepping up their efforts to win back state legislatures.

“It means Republicans have huge missed opportunities to organize early and invest in a strong ground game,” said Jessica Post, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, whose efforts to defend and make inroads in state houses have been the best midterms since the Franklin D. Roosevelt era, creating three Democratic trifectas and losing no Democratic majority.

Some beleaguered party states have recently secured help from National Republicans. In June, the Minnesota State Party was supported by a transfer of $160,000 from Protect the House 2024, a fundraising committee supported by the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The sum helped boost its federal cash position to nearly $200,000 from $54 the previous month. Other state parties critical to the fight for the House — including Pennsylvania, California and New York — also received six-figure checks from the McCarthy-controlled fundraising operation in June.

Perhaps no state offers such a grand microcosm of the current political moment as Michigan. There, the state party was caught up in infighting between Kristina Karamo, the party’s incoming chairwoman and failed 2022 secretary of state nominee, and Matt DePerno, the 2022 GOP attorney general nominee. whom Karamo defeated as party president.

There have been multiple physical altercations at party meetings in the state as tension mounts over the party leadership. A proxy battle between the two sides for control of a county party has spilled over into court. The Michigan GOP also appears to be flat, with just under $147,000 in its federal campaign coffers at the end of June.

“It all fell off a cliff,” said Jason Watts, a former local party leader who was ousted from his post after criticizing Trump and the party’s Covid protocol in 2021. He added that the state party has been reduced to “basically” a “UPS Store P.O. Box and mailing account.” »

While Michigan is perhaps the starkest example of a declining GOP state party, GOP officials say it is far from the only one.

In Pennsylvania, the state party sold its seat last year, raising concerns among some Republicans in the state about its finances. The state’s leading Democratic party PAC also outpaced its equivalent by nearly two to one in 2022. A hip Pennsylvania Republican said far-right activists who have won state committee seats in recent years are unable to appeal to wealthy friends for money in the same way that more establishment-minded party foot soldiers could in the past.

“State committee members are increasingly pro-Trump,” the person said. “But they don’t have any money. »

Earlier this spring in Colorado, the state’s GOP failed to pay a single employee — if any at all — for the first time in 20 years, according to The Colorado Sun. He only had $158,000 in the bank in his federal account last month.

In a statement to POLITICO, Colorado GOP state party chairman Dave Williams, who ran on a platform of refusing the 2020 election, said the party “has sufficient funds to finance its current operations and will have the necessary capital for the 2024 electoral cycle”. He said the “establishment” had “swindled donors by the millions and created donor fatigue with their failed strategies and historic losses in Colorado.”

In deep blue Massachusetts, where moderate Republican governors have ruled for most of the past 30 years, a far-right push by a pro-Trump state committee chairman has destroyed the state’s GOP capacity recruiting mainstream candidates and sent donors fleeing, bankrupting the party and costing Republicans their last two statewide offices. The party has now racked up more than $400,000 in debt to suppliers and has less than $70,000 between its state and federal campaign accounts to pay it off.

“It’s rebuilding trust with donors that takes time. You can’t do it overnight,” Amy Carnevale, an establishment Republican who ousted the former chairman of Trump’s ally State party in January, said in an interview. “These donors don’t want to see their money go to campaigns that have no chance of winning and to ideologies that don’t work. »

Not everyone in GOP circles thinks financial disrepair at the state party level will translate into election disaster. The State House Republican Campaign Committee in Michigan, for example, is relatively on edge. He recently announced that he raised just over $1 million last quarter, narrowly surpassing his Democratic counterparts. He did so through a fundraising campaign led by former GOP Governor Rick Snyder and Bill Parfet, a longtime Republican businessman and broker who broke ranks to support Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. in his fight for midterm re-election. The HRCC did not respond to an interview request for this story.

And in Pennsylvania, state party GOP officials insist the committee is financially sound and that unloading its seat has allowed it to free itself from a roughly $700,000 mortgage and move into offices in a safer neighborhood.

“Our party’s mission is not to go out and have high occupancy costs. It doesn’t benefit anyone,” said Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. “Our mission is to take all the money we raise and spend it to support our candidates and our electoral activities. »

Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP party chairman, argued that a weak, albeit harmful, state party is “not a death wish” for candidates. “There are ways to operate around the state party if you have to,” he said. “I mean, it’s not ideal, but if it’s the political reality, you have to do it. Anuzis cited Georgia as an example, where GOP Gov. Brian Kemp — who had repeatedly clashed with state party leaders after the 2020 election — built his own outside apparatus for his successful candidacy. for re-election last year.

One of the ways national parties have dealt with the weakening of state parties has been to circumvent them. The Republican Governors Association, for example, managed its spending in Arizona’s 2022 gubernatorial race through a county party instead of the state’s long-plagued Republican Party. In Nevada, meanwhile, remnants of the notorious “Reid Machine” set up a parallel operation to the state Democratic Party, which had been briefly taken over by Bernie Sanders supporters, to help run the midterms of Senate and gubernatorial contests there. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was re-elected, while Governor at the time. Steve Sisolak narrowly lost his bid for another term.

But working around a party state has its limits, especially if other political entities try to do the same. This was the case in Arizona, where the state party was infiltrated by precinct committee leaders affiliated with the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA. The group is at odds with moderate-minded GOP officials in the state and has enthusiastically backed unsuccessful statewide candidates like Kari Lake for governor and Abe Hamadeh for attorney general. .

These losses did not leave him chastised. Instead, the organization announced plans to expand its efforts in Wisconsin and Georgia before 2024. In a pitch deck for the group’s new ballot-hunting initiative in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, obtained per POLITICO, Turning Point estimates it spent $108 million in those three United States as part of its “Army Field Operation to Hunt Ballots.”

Turning Point says it has recruited 3,000 state party precinct leaders across the country since 2020, a key part of its efforts to influence state parties away from traditional GOP leadership.

“It has become quite difficult to rely on state parties,” said a Republican national agent, who was granted anonymity to speak freely. “Because people who are involved for the right reasons don’t feel appreciated and get kicked out, and now you’re stuck with fringe characters who don’t know how to win elections, who can’t be trusted to handle the resources, and playing with people’s worst instincts.

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Nicholas Ross

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