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Downward Mobility

Maryland’s sorry Republican party.

May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By KATE HAVARD
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When Ferguson signed on with the Maryland GOP, one of his first stops was party headquarters, a grand old office building just off of Annapolis’s Church Circle. The historic building “had a nice façade but it was not good, functionally,” Ferguson recalls. “The floors were falling in, there was mold, the heat and central air didn’t work, and it was really expensive.” Annapolis politicos often pointed to the gutted building with a lonely bust of Ronald Reagan in the window as a physical manifestation of the party’s woes.

One of Ferguson’s first priorities was relocating to smaller, cleaner offices just down the street—for a third of the price. The GOP needed every dollar it could get: When Ferguson opened the books, he discovered that not only was the party losing politically, it was also hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. “Now, at least, we’ve paid off the telemarketers, the direct mailing, and all our other bills are current,” he says. He next got to work fundraising, and the party brought in nearly $1.2 million in 2012.

Then he unveiled the big win strategy, “Growing Our Party 2020.” If it isn’t clear from the title, it sets the bar for victory pretty low. Ferguson’s plan emphasizes winning local elections, in which Maryland Republicans do much better, over big-ticket races for the Senate or the governor’s office.

“If we can’t play at the opponent’s level, we have to define our own success,” he says. “We need more people to run for the state senate, for the House of Delegates, and for the local positions. There are people who want to run for the governor’s office that are wholly qualified, could be great state senators, and could win there, but they don’t want to run for that seat.” He adds, “Everyone wants to be the top martyr, but we’re saying, run in a legislative race in your hometown that you can win. A rising tide raises all boats.”

It’s temperate advice in a year in which all tides seem to be against them. In the middle of this year’s tough session, Ferguson’s boss, state party chairman Alex X. Mooney, resigned and moved to West Virginia, where he is contemplating a congressional run. It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in the party’s future.

Mooney left his vice chair, real estate agent Diana Waterman, in charge of the fractured party. Many of the hostilities at the convention arose because the party had denied bloggers, including a small but vocal group of conservative bloggers, media credentials. The bloggers said that they were being shut out because they have the audacity to criticize party leadership. State party leadership said the bloggers were just whiners trying to score free convention tickets. In a state where Republicans need all the media attention they can get, it’s an unfortunate quarrel.

At the convention, delegate Justin Ready (R-Carroll County) led a workshop for potential candidates, largely aimed at healing the rift between grassroots and party leaders, one he sees playing out nationally. The 31-year-old Ready, a freshman delegate, is considered a “young gun” of the party. He was one of the few officials at the convention who’s respected by both party leaders and activists.

The goal, he told the crowd, was to stick to principles while keeping in mind where the voters are coming from. “We can’t afford to write anyone off,” he said. “When we lose, it’s easy to form the circular firing squad and blame [each other], but the truth is, it’s hard in our state, and when you don’t have the senators, you don’t have the delegates, you don’t have the votes—you can’t make a difference. We can’t do it if we’re not united.”

Diana Waterman was officially elected to a full term as chair on Saturday and supported her rival, Collins Bailey, in his bid for vice-chair, a promising sign for party unity. But Waterman takes a very different tack from Ferguson. She’s not content to wait until 2020, when the next census might lead to more favorable redistricting, to go for the big seats.

Term limits mean O’Malley cannot try for a third term in 2014. Waterman calls the governorship “an open seat, with no clear frontrunner on the Democrat side.” She adds, “When they’re fighting, that helps us. It opens the door a little wider.”

The new Maryland Republican party chair doesn’t sound like a supporter of “Growing Our Party 2020.” “Is it going to be a definite challenge to win back the governor’s seat [next] year or four years from [then]? Yes. But absolutely and totally unattainable? No.”

Kate Havard is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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