Updated: 8:57 p.m.
The new chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party on Tuesday was forced to issue a promise to remain neutral in the presidential contest after Tim Pawlenty supporters complained about comments a party official made to Roll Call questioning his conservative credentials.
State GOP Chairman Jack Kimball on Tuesday night defended Will Wrobleski, the party’s new executive director who told Roll Call he would not vote for Pawlenty in the first-in-the-nation primary.
“Roll Call reported today on comments made by Will Wrobleski at a recent event,” Kimball said. “I want to be very clear that these comments do not reflect my opinions, and at the time he made these remarks, Will did not work for the Republican Party, did not speak for me and did not speak for the New Hampshire Republican Party.”
Kimball then praised Pawlenty as having “an excellent record of strong, conservative leadership in Minnesota.”
In an interview with Roll Call during a Concord, N.H., reception for Pawlenty, Wrobleski knocked Pawlenty’s chances of capturing the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012.
“He’s a nice guy. But there’s a number of guys I’d vote for. He’s not one of them,” Wrobleski said, a few days before taking the state party post. “I don’t think he’s conservative enough.”
A spokesman for Pawlenty’s Freedom First political action committee thanked Kimball for his promise Tuesday evening. “We appreciate the statement and are confident Chairman Kimball will do a terrific job leading the State Party in a fair and neutral way,” spokesman Alex Conant said in an e-mail. “The Governor looks forward to helping the NH GOP achieve their goals on future visits to the state.”
Meanwhile, a New Hampshire-based political consultant with ties to the former Minnesota governor called for Wrobleski to step down. Wrobleski is expected to serve as the state party’s top operative through the 2012 election cycle.
The dust-up highlights the difficult path ahead for Republicans as they seek the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama. Last month, Kimball, a favorite of the local tea party movement, narrowly defeated the establishment favorite, Juliana Bergeron, in the race to succeed the outgoing chairman, former Gov. John H. Sununu. Bergeron was Cheshire County GOP chairwoman and had Sununu’s blessing, but Kimball earned 222 votes to her 199 votes during the Jan. 22 Republican State Committee’s annual meeting.
In his statement, issued after the Roll Call article ruffled feathers in the Granite State, Kimball said he has gotten to know Pawlenty over the past year.
“I am committed to maintaining the great tradition of our First in the Nation Primary, where all candidates are welcome,” Kimball said. “I will ensure all candidates receive impartial treatment from the NH GOP staff, and look forward to working closely with all Republican candidates as they campaign in New Hampshire in 2011.”
It’s unclear whether that will be enough to satisfy local Pawlenty supporters, who have been actively courting New Hampshire Republicans in recent weeks. They include New Hampshire-based political consultant Christopher Stewart, who wrote a blog post on the issue Tuesday afternoon.
“Will should not work for the New Hampshire Republican Party which is charged with helping all presidential candidates in New Hampshire,” Stewart wrote, emphasizing the word “all.” Stewart is married to Pawlenty’s senior adviser in New Hampshire.
Conant, the spokesman for Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC, responded, “The views of the independent blogger are his alone.”
Pawlenty has been among the most active prospective presidential candidates to date, having visited New Hampshire six times since last winter, most recently in last week’s two-day swing.
He was the first to have a paid staffer on the ground. Pawlenty hired B-Fresh Consulting co-founder Sarah Crawford as his political action committee’s senior adviser last June. The firm’s other co-founder is her husband, Stewart, who wrote the Tuesday blog post titled “Will Wrobleski Doesn’t Get It.”
Stewart also went after Wrobleski, the Granite State coalition director for 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Twitter.
“I can’t imagine that the #NHGOP wants all future conversations to begin with, ‘No, we are not an extension of Romney’s campaign,’” Stewart tweeted, while adding on his blog, “Will should still work for Mitt Romney.”