Politics & Policy

The Party’s Over

The New Hampshire GOP is divided over its tea-party chairman.

In January, conservative activist Jack Kimball waged a successful insurgent campaign to become chairman of the New Hampshire Republican party. At the time, the tea-partier hoped his candidacy would bridge the gap between the grassroots and the establishment. “This is going to be a unified party,” Kimball promised the rank and file in his victory speech.

Seven months later, the specter of division is haunting Republicans across the state.

Last week, the state’s leading Republicans requested Kimball’s resignation. “To ensure that all of the party’s energy and resources are solely focused on electing Republicans, we believe it is time to move beyond this serious distraction,’’ said the joint statement signed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Charlie Bass, Rep. Frank Guinta, state-house speaker William O’Brien, and state-senate president Peter Bragdon.

The distraction, they say, is Kimball’s incompetence: Low fundraising, failure to stay on message, and bad management have plagued the party during his tenure.

O’Brien, who nominated Kimball at the state convention, says donors throughout the country have told him they won’t contribute to the party until Kimball is gone: “We kept getting back the same message: ‘We have limited resources, and we need to put them where they’ll be effective. And your state party is not run in an effective manner.’”

Kimball alleges that the Republican Governors Association offered $100,000 to the state party in exchange for his resignation. State representative Bill O’Connor, a friend of Kimball’s, adds that the Republican National Committee has withheld money from the state party. 

But Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the RGA, denies there was such an offer. And a source inside the RNC tells NRO, “We aren’t withholding any money or threatening to do that.”

Kimball, meanwhile, defends his fundraising record: “I raised over $190,000 — the second-highest total in two consecutive quarters in eight years.”

“I would accept that,” replies Steve Duprey, the Republican national committeeman for the Granite State. “I would also suggest that he’s spending at a greater rate than we’ve had in the first two quarters.” More important to Duprey, however, is his contention that Kimball has failed to give the party’s executive committee a full financial report since he took over. (As of May, Kimball notes, the party’s federal account had $1,300 in cash on hand, and its state account had $39,500.)

The chairman’s public mistakes have stung the most sharply. The GOP lost two special elections this year for the state legislature that many insiders believe the party should have won. And earlier this month, Kimball was photographed signing a petition to give the Libertarian party greater access to the ballot. Kimball says he thought the petition was for a particular Libertarian candidate — not the party itself — and once he learned of his error, he tracked down the petitioner to retract his support.

A few weeks later, Kimball fired the party’s executive director, Will Wrobleski, who was well liked among the party faithful. Although Kimball refuses to badmouth Wrobleski to the press, O’Brien says Kimball canned Wrobleski because he suspected him of disloyalty.

“I think it was Chairman Kimball’s belief that the executive director was spreading rumors about the picture of him signing the Libertarian petition,” O’Brien says. “Clearly, the chairman has a right to hire and fire whomever he wants. But our concern was that he had mismanaged the situation.”

Sometimes the chairman has irked his fellow Republicans not by his actions but by his absence. O’Brien says he thought Kimball would excel as “the premier face of the Republican party,” but unfortunately, “he never seemed to be able to understand that role.” For instance, when a state-owned liquor store gave better reserved parking spaces to owners of hybrid vehicles than to the handicapped, Republican legislators asked Kimball to pounce. But he never budged. “We finally did it ourselves,” O’Brien says.

As the months passed, Kimball’s absence from the papers and airwaves grew worrisome. “I don’t think his press person was ever quoted helping cover Republicans,” says a GOP operative in the state.

Nonetheless, Kimball has his defenders. Conservative activists throughout the state are organizing to keep him in charge. The Strafford County delegation, for example, is demanding that the executive committee let the full state committee vote on Kimball’s future. The Republican Liberty Caucus, a conservative offshoot of the state party, has lent its voice to the pro-Kimball chorus. “We’re not interested in seeing a very small select group of the party make the decision to override the decision that the full committee made to elect Jack,” says Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the caucus.

For his part, Kimball says the party establishment has always had it in for him. If he is removed, Kimball warns, “it is going to cause a fissure in this party that isn’t going to heal any time soon.”

On Thursday, the executive committee will meet, and Kimball’s opponents say they have enough votes to force his ouster. But they emphasize that their decision isn’t personal. “This is not about ideology,” Duprey says. “It’s about competence.”

— Brian Bolduc is a reporter for National Review Online.

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