State Parties Gone Wild

There’s been a lot of turmoil at the grassroots level in key battleground states.

  :WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), talks about student loans during a news conference on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senators talked about solutions to keep student loans from doubling on July 1st. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) :WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), talks about student loans during a news conference on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senators talked about solutions to keep student loans from doubling on July 1st. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  
National Journal
Andrea Drusch
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Andrea Drusch
July 30, 2014, 4:59 p.m.

In Alaska, an out­go­ing Re­pub­lic­an Party chair­wo­man changed the locks on the party of­fice dur­ing a snowstorm and fled the state dur­ing her ouster. The Demo­crat­ic Party in North Car­o­lina is still re­build­ing after a top staffer in 2012 was ac­cused of sexu­al har­ass­ment by a fel­low male em­ploy­ee. Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­ans, not known re­cently for their or­gan­iz­a­tion­al strength to be­gin with, are led by a chair­man who made head­lines in 2013 for so­li­cit­ing ur­ine samples for his med­ic­al-test­ing re­search.

These are just three col­or­ful ex­amples of state parties in tur­moil, loc­al stor­ies that take on great­er sig­ni­fic­ance this year with these states host­ing high-stakes Sen­ate races.

Sen­ate races and statewide cam­paigns aren’t stand-alone op­er­a­tions; they de­pend on state parties for everything from get-out-the-vote ef­forts to fin­an­cial as­sist­ance and data, and not hav­ing that sup­port puts in­creased pres­sure on the can­did­ates and na­tion­al groups to fill the gaps.

“Most state parties, their primary re­spons­ib­il­it­ies are to re­cruit and train good can­did­ates, to provide a grass­roots and voter-con­tact in­fra­struc­ture, and be able to have the fin­an­cial re­sources to pay for data,” said Thar­on John­son, a Geor­gia Demo­crat and former re­gion­al dir­ect­or for Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2012 cam­paign. The re­la­tion­ships that a strong state party main­tains with voters dur­ing nonelec­tion years are cru­cial to can­did­ates’ out­reach abil­it­ies the next fall, John­son said.

“Na­tion­al parties have to con­tin­ue to find cre­at­ive ways to work with or without a func­tion­ing party,” John­son said. “It’s al­ways pre­ferred to go through a healthy state party.”

Troubled state parties now play­ing host to key midterm races are keenly aware of the roles they’re ex­pec­ted to play, and many have ramped up ef­forts to get their or­gan­iz­a­tions in place. Here’s a look at how five chal­lenged state parties are pre­par­ing for 2014.

Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans

Up un­til sev­er­al months ago, the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Iowa had been dom­in­ated by Ron Paul-sup­port­ing liberty act­iv­ists, which com­pelled na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans to form their own Iowa or­gan­iz­a­tion in 2012 in­stead of work­ing through the state party. By the time al­lies of Gov. Terry Bran­stad swept out the last of the Paul-aligned lead­er­ship this spring, the party was es­sen­tially broke, with less than $11,000 in its fed­er­al ac­count to sup­port a high-pro­file Sen­ate race and sev­er­al com­pet­it­ive con­gres­sion­al cam­paigns. Adding in­sult to in­jury, the ex­it­ing ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or col­lec­ted $38,000 in pay­ments to use on his well-doc­u­mented travel plans, and left his re­place­ment with a list of in­ac­cur­ate so­cial-me­dia pass­words, which some sug­ges­ted was in­ten­tion­al.

But new lead­er­ship un­der former state law­maker Jeff Kaufmann has put the state GOP at the cen­ter of a highly-or­gan­ized co­ordin­a­tion ef­fort.

“It’s go­ing to be a dis­tinct change from the past,” Kaufmann said in an in­ter­view. “We’re go­ing to be in a po­s­i­tion to make a dif­fer­ence, per­haps, and likely the biggest dif­fer­ence in the last three elec­tions.

“We’ll be in sync with the vic­tory of­fice and the GOTV ef­fort,” he said. “And we are ac­tu­ally, for the first time in ages, hav­ing in-depth, de­tailed dis­cus­sions with all the cam­paigns so that we’re avoid­ing du­plic­a­tion and so that we are re­in­for­cing ex­actly where they need re­in­force­ments.”

Geor­gia Demo­crats

Geor­gia’s State Demo­crat­ic Com­mit­tee elec­ted DuBose Port­er as chair­man in Septem­ber of 2013, fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of then-chair Mike Ber­lon, who faced dis­tract­ing eth­ics com­plaints re­gard­ing his leg­al ca­reer and had his law li­cense sus­pen­ded.

Port­er and na­tion­al Demo­crats in­sist that his team has been able to bridge the gap left dur­ing Ber­lon’s ten­ure. In a quickly chan­ging state where minor­ity voter turnout will be huge for his party, Port­er has hired ex­per­i­enced com­munity or­gan­izers for a co­ordin­ated cam­paign to reach tar­get groups: labor, Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, His­pan­ics, and white voters.

Com­pared to 2012, Port­er says the party is “light years” dif­fer­ent, cit­ing his long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ships with the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee and Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “The re­la­tion­ship with the DNC has been great,” Port­er said. “As soon as I was elec­ted chair I went to Wash­ing­ton and met with the DSCC. I wanted them to know that they could have the con­fid­ence in what we’re do­ing with the party.”

North Car­o­lina Demo­crats

Tur­moil in North Car­o­lina’s Demo­crat­ic Party has been no secret, thanks to some sa­la­cious de­tails leaked to the press from a staffer’s sexu­al har­ass­ment com­plaint in 2012. The party’s then-ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Jay Parm­ley, resigned after ac­cus­a­tions from an­oth­er male staffer but denied any wrong­do­ing. The party chair­man even­tu­ally left as well.

In March, cur­rent chair­man Randy Voller de­scribed the party as “broke” and said it was eval­u­at­ing wheth­er to shut the doors on its Raleigh headquar­ters. As a res­ult, Sen. Kay Hagan’s cam­paign is run­ning its co­ordin­ated ef­forts with the largest county Demo­crat­ic Party or­gan­iz­a­tion in the state, in Wake County. Re­pub­lic­ans in Nevada did a sim­il­ar thing in 2012 to avoid an­oth­er Paul-aligned state party lead­er­ship.

Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­ans

Re­pub­lic­ans hope to run a com­pet­it­ive Sen­ate race here, nom­in­at­ing so­cially mod­er­ate neurosur­geon Mon­ica We­hby to face Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeff Merkley. Un­for­tu­nately, the party in­fra­struc­ture hasn’t been much of a force in many years, Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­ans say.

“They have not been par­tic­u­larly well-fun­ded the past couple of elec­tions,” said Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant Bob Moore. “The party is not a ma­jor force in elect­ing Re­pub­lic­ans in the state and it hasn’t been in a num­ber of years. I hon­estly don’t re­mem­ber the last time they were a force to be reckoned with. If any­thing, they’ve some­times been a pass-through for the [Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee].”

The party is led by Chair­man Art Robin­son, who is run­ning for of­fice for the third time in the 4th Dis­trict after two failed bids in 2010 and 2012. He’s gen­er­ated some un­wanted head­lines for the party by so­li­cit­ing ur­ine samples from the pub­lic for his med­ic­al re­search.

RNC spokes­wo­man Kirsten Kukowski said the na­tion­al com­mit­tee was pla­cing staff and re­sources in the state who would work along­side the state party — but not around it in any way.

Alaska Re­pub­lic­ans

The Alaska Re­pub­lic­an Party is also re­build­ing after a change in lead­er­ship. In April 2013, former chair­wo­man Debbie Brown was the second of two Paul-aligned party lead­ers to be ous­ted from the po­s­i­tion; she was re­placed by cur­rent chair­man Peter Gold­berg.

The com­mit­tee had planned to re­move Brown for fail­ing to raise money, but in the mean­time, she changed the locks on the party headquar­ters dur­ing a snowstorm and threatened to ar­rest any­one who at­temp­ted to enter. She was voted out from an An­chor­age of­fice com­plex.

Kukowski said the RNC had es­tab­lished a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Gold­berg lead­ing up to the state’s big Sen­ate race and had sent a com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or up spe­cific­ally to work with the state party ahead of its late primary.

Alaska Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al con­sult­ant Art Hack­ney agreed that pro­gress had been made with­in the state party, but said na­tion­al groups’ help was lim­ited be­cause of the ex­tens­ive ground game re­quired to com­pete in Alaska. He cred­ited na­tion­al Demo­crats for con­trib­ut­ing to their side’s soph­ist­ic­ated tar­get­ing op­er­a­tions rather than just pour­ing money in­to gen­er­ic na­tion­al TV ads.

Kukowski said the ground game for Alaska Re­pub­lic­ans was still in the works. She poin­ted to a new pre­cinct pro­gram with hun­dreds of pre­cinct lead­ers armed with new tech­no­logy. She said the RNC has been work­ing to build out a field pro­gram over the last year with of­fices and a grow­ing staff pres­ence.

What We're Following See More »
WHO PLAYED THE DONALD?
Longtime Clinton Aide Played Trump in Mock Debates
10 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

After keeping the information private for most of the lead-up to the debate on Monday, it has been revealed that longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines has been playing the role of Donald Trump in her debate prep. Reines knows Clinton better than most, able to identify both her strengths and weaknesses, and his selection for a sparring partner shows that Clinton is preparing for the brash and confrontational Donald Trump many have come to expect.

Source:
WEEKEND POLLING ROUNDUP
New Polls Still Show Razor-Thin Margins
16 minutes ago
THE LATEST
  • A national Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Clinton leading Trump by just two points among likely voters, 46% to 44%.
  • A national Bloomberg poll out Monday morning by Selzer & Co. has Clinton and Trump tied at 46% in a two-way race, and Trump ahead 43% to 41% in a four-way race.
  • A CNN/ORC poll in Colorado shows likely voters’ support for Trump at 42%, 41% for Clinton, and a CNN/ORC poll in Pennsylvania has Clinton at 45% and Trump at 44%.
  • A Portland Press Herald/UNH survey in Maine has Clinton leading Trump in ME-01 and Trump ahead in ME-02.
THE QUESTION
How Many Times Has the Trump Campaign Emailed Ted Cruz’s Supporters?
22 minutes ago
THE ANSWER

More than 30 times, in the case of some donors. Long before Cruz endorsed Trump—and before he even snubbed the nominee at the Republican National Convention—"the senator quietly began renting his vast donor email file to his former rival, pocketing at least tens of thousands of dollars, and more likely hundreds of thousands, that can be used to bankroll the Texan’s own political future."

Source:
STAKES ARE HIGH
Debate Could Sway One-Third of Voters
12 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."

Source:
YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS ANYMORE
Gennifer Flowers May Not Appear After All
12 hours ago
THE LATEST

Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."

Source:
×