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RNC Looks to Refurbish Ailing State Parties, Build Infrastructure

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Priebus is expected to discuss the GOP’s organizational plan Friday during his speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting.

The struggles of the GOP in the Silver State were unique, highlighted by regional struggles between local parties and the takeover by supporters of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The dysfunction and infighting played out on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., where the two factions engaged in heated exchanges.

The national party was so distrustful of the state GOP that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee set up avenues to funnel money and infrastructure to Nevada while circumventing the state party. Republican Sen. Dean Heller squeaked out a victory over Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, but Romney lost by 6 points to President Barack Obama in a state with among the highest levels of unemployment and home foreclosures.

Republican consultant Ryan Erwin, who is a former executive director of both the California and Nevada Republican parties, said that in an age of third-party groups collecting and spending vast amounts of money, state parties should focus on what they can uniquely provide.

While it may be able to do more, Erwin said, the role of the state party “will always include registration, voter ID, turnout, data, volunteer recruitment and being a consistent brand that — although brands have highs and lows — hopefully is symbolic of accountability and stability.”

That was not the case last year in California, where the state party found itself hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and unable to properly assist congressional candidates in the newest hotbed of competition at the House level. Half of the party’s net loss of eight seats nationally came from California.

Jim Brulte, a former GOP leader in both the California Assembly and Senate, is running for state party chairman and looking to turn things around. He has projected it could take six years to fully do that, including implementing a finance infrastructure necessary for a viable party — something that doesn’t currently exist.

The party has come to rely on elected officials and candidates to raise money for it, rather than the other way around, he said in an interview.

“The role of the party is to be the nuts and bolts that help candidates win elections,” Brulte said. “It’s very important that we have a vibrant, strong, operational, excellent state party.”

Elsewhere in the region, GOP post-election soul-searching in Colorado and New Mexico — both of which Obama won — wavered between tactical problems and the party’s inability to attract Hispanic voters, according to media reports in November.

In Colorado, Democrats control both houses of the state General Assembly, and only one Republican governor has been elected since 1970. (Bill Owens, who served two terms.) Thought to be a swing state, Colorado saw a 9-point victory for Obama in 2008, followed by a 5-point win last year, much to the surprise of the state GOP, which had rented out space at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to celebrate on election night.

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