Conservative Mooney Elected MDGOP Chair

On Saturday, Maryland Republicans elected outgoing state senator Alex X. Mooney to lead the state Republican Party for the next four years. View the statement from the MDGOP here.

Senator Mooney (District 3) served three terms in Annapolis representing parts of Frederick and Washington Counties. He was first elected in 1998 as the youngest state senator, and he quickly gained the reputation as one of the most conservative members of the Maryland General Assembly. Mooney became a staunch defender of conservative values and was “tea party” long before average Americans rose up against big government and high taxes.

During his time as state senator, Mooney was an excellent fundraiser, raising over $2 million in contributions from his first election through the most recent election cycle.

Unfortunately, the combination of both staunch conservative values and fundraising ability meant that liberal Democrat Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr. targeted Mooney every election cycle since his first victory in 1998.

Maryland Democrats redrew the lines after the 2000 Census, eliminating the more conservative parts of Washington County and replacing those precincts with Frederick City precincts. After a court battle, the new precincts included a higher ratio of Democrats to Republicans. In 2002, he faced Delegate Sue Hecht. By the time the votes were counted, Mooney trounced Hecht by roughly ten points. By 2006, Mooney’s margin had slimmed to just four points against a relative unknown candidate.

Both times, Senate President Mike Miller poured countless thousands of dollars of support into the coffers of Mooney’s opponents or paid for mailers on their behalf. And both times, Mooney’s fundraising ability matched dollar-for-dollar, allowing Mooney to achieve electoral victory.

In 2008, District 3 voters elected Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of ten points. Senator Mooney realized the shifting political winds in his district might affect the turnout of his next election. Frederick County has increasingly become a “bedroom community” of Washington, D.C. Frederick County shares a border with Montgomery County, and I-270 is a substantial route for commuters from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania who work in the District.

The 2010 election pitted Mooney against longtime Frederick City Mayor Ron Young, who ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism, despite having raised taxes and fees dozens of times while in city government. Young raised pennies compared to Mooney’s campaign war chest, but Senate President Mike Miller poured more than $300,000 in mail, radio, and television advertising for Mooney’s opponent, leaving him to campaign door-to-door and make phonecalls.

Mooney and his campaign team knocked on over 20,000 doors, made nearly 10,000 phone calls, and strategically dropped Republican-targeted literature to several thousand voters. Mooney’s GOTV efforts in the week leading up to the election saw dozens of volunteers address and stuff nearly 15,000 personalized letters to voters throughout the district.

On Election Day, The Frederick News-Post called the Mooney-Young race “too close to call.” In total votes cast on Election Day, Mooney led by a few hundred votes cast. Young, however, picked up tremendous support during early voting, which was established in Maryland to benefit Democrat voters. As hours turned into days, it became apparent that Young bested Mooney by just a few hundred votes.

As the campaign manager, I was and still am very proud of the efforts of my candidate, my campaign staff, and our wonderful volunteers — but this post isn’t about that. It’s about what comes next.

In the weeks following the election, Mooney mulled over his options. With a desire still to serve and a commitment to advancing Republican causes in an increasingly blue state, Mooney sent a message to the members of the various Republican Central Committees throughout the state.

Mooney touted his fundraising abilities, his previous electoral success, and his ability to recruit and train good candidates. Mooney cited four state senate races where Republicans lost by less than two percent of the vote – his own race as a prime example. I personally found at least 12 House of Delegates races where Republicans lost by less than a thousand votes or merely a few percentage points.

As convention-goers were wined and dined by various candidates and counties on Friday night, Mooney outlined his plan to make electoral gains in Maryland. He set an ambitious goal of raising $500,000 in 2011. He tiered the fundraising figures: Chairman – $250,000; 1st Vice Chair – $75,000; 2nd Vice Chair – $50,000; 3rd Vice Chair – $25,000; National Committeeman/woman – $50,000/piece.

Two rounds of voting commenced for the race for MDGOP Chair on Saturday morning. On the first ballot, five candidates vied for the top spot: Bill Campbell, former candidate for Comptroller, garnered 48 votes (8.16%); Mike Estevé, Maryland College Republicans Chairman, received 29 votes (4.93%); Sam Hale, founder of the Maryland Society of Patriots, managed 52 votes (8.84%); Mary Kane, former candidate for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State under the Ehrlich Administration, pulled 183 votes (31.12%); Alex X. Mooney, outgoing State Senator, won 276 votes (46.94%).

Since no one candidate had a majority of the votes, the convention held a second round of voting. Between the first and second rounds, three candidates dropped out of the race. Mike Estevé withdrew his nomination and asked his supporters to fall in line behind Mary Kane. Bill Campbell withdrew his candidacy and chose not to publicly announce support for any other candidate. Sam Hale withdrew and enthusiastically threw his support behind Mooney.

I sat in the back of the room and furiously tallied the votes to predict the outcome. Three minutes passed while county Central Committees re-voted. From what I understand, Congressman-elect Andy Harris and prominent Maryland Republican Ellen Sauerbrey both worked the floor in favor of Mooney. Harris and Mooney served together in the state senate, and Sauerbrey has been a longtime supporter of Mooney, dating back to her campaign for Governor in 1998.

Chair Audrey Scott gaveled the audience to order and began to call each jurisdiction alphabetically. It soon became very apparent to me that Mooney would emerge victorious. Entire counties threw their support behind Mooney. Mooney received 362 votes to Kane’s 219. Several voters abstained, but Mooney ultimately received about 62% of the vote.

The room erupted in applause as the excitement reached a boiling point. Mooney supporters waved placards and shouted in excitement. Party members elected a conservative firebrand with a proven track record and the ability to raise money.

Only time will tell what Mooney will be able to achieve over the next four years as Chairman. I am confident he will couple an unrivaled ability to raise money with an aggressive recruitment and training process for prospective Republican candidates. Mooney believes strongly in equipping candidates with the finances as well as the political technology to win elections. Look for Leadership Institute training to be mandatory for all Republican candidates in Maryland for the next four years.

Red Maryland has a good recap of the convention here.

Matthew Hurtt served as Senator Alex X. Mooney’s campaign manager for the 2010 election cycle. He no longer works in any paid capacity for Senator Mooney or the Maryland GOP. This is a subjective account of the events and represent only the author’s opinion. Matthew Hurtt can be reached at Matt [dot] Hurtt {at] gmail [dot] com.