Is the State GOP Taking Sides in a Competitive Primary?

Republican voters in District 31-B today opened their mailboxes to find they had received mail from the District 31-B incumbents.

The most notable and alarming thing about the mailer comes from photo 1, with the authority line. The authority line lists a number of different committees that were included as being involved in the production of the piece. The Maryland Republican Party is listed as one of the committees that contributed to the production of the piece. The state party has, traditionally, been prohibited from getting involved in contested primaries. Anybody who remembers the brouhaha over the State Party enactment of Rule 11 during the 2010 gubernatorial primary in support of Bob Ehrlich remembers the bad blood that was created in some circles by that decision. That bad blood exists in some circles still today. Given the fact that John Leopold is definitely running in District 31 for either House or Senate, we know that either Senator Simonaire or Delegates Kipke and Simonaire are going to face primary opposition.

I reached out to some folks for comment about all of this. First, we hear from Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire:

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The House and Senate Caucus Committees are official committees of the state GOP – we amended our bylaws 2 years ago to make this change to comport with state law and enable the committees to use the state parties non-profit rate as an official legal entity of the state GOP. The vote for this bylaws change was unanimous. The funds used for this mailer are solely from the caucus committee, not from one of the other “traditional” state party accounts.

I also spoke on the phone with House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. Delegate Kipke (whom I spoke with before I received the comment from Chairman Haire) gave me very similar information regarding how the mailer was paid for; that the caucus committee paid for the mailer, and that the only participation by the state party was the use of the state party non-profit mailing indicia. He noted that this change with the caucus committees was in line with a change to state law regarding how caucus committees were allowed to operate in a similar way to the House and Senate caucus slates used to operate. He was also encouraging all members of the House caucus to send surveys to voters in their district to get their take on the issues facing our state (though not necessarily in the same format that was sent to voters in 31-B).

The mailer is appropriate within state law and, after hearing from Chairman Haire, appropriate with the state GOP bylaws insofar as the use of the non-profit rate for the mailer. But reaction to this mail piece has not exactly been positive. I have heard from several other District 31 voters who are livid with the mailer. They feel that the inclusion of the State Party on the authority line means the state party is putting their thumb on the scale in support of the incumbents in this primary election. Traditionally, the State Party has been precluded from making endorsements in contested primaries. And while no challengers have officially filed for Senate in 31 or House in 31-B, we know that at least one candidate is running and that others may be contemplating a campaign.

Collaborating between the House and Senate Caucus Committees and the State Party in accord with state law and the party bylaws is a good thing, especially when it comes to comparing and contrasting the GOP with Democratic incumbents, candidates, and ideas. But care should be made when sending out pieces similar to this one to avoid the appearance that the state party is endorsing candidates in contested primaries. That’s a headache that candidates and the party do not need over the course of the next year heading toward the 2018 primary.

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