The dispute that pundits and pols in Michigan forecast would bring three months of internecine warfare over who would run the state Republican Party has ended peacefully. Four days before Thanksgiving, 3rd District Republican Chairman Dave Dishaw called off his bid for state chairmanship. Barring anything unexpected, incumbent Chairman Saul Anuzis should be re-elected at the state Republican convention in February.
The certain Anuzis triumph also signals détente between the chairman—a self-styled “Jack Kemp-Newt Gingrich Republican”—and GOP National Committeeman Chuck Yob, unofficial leader of John McCain’s presidential campaign team in the Water Wonderland. (Son John Yob is the full-time head of the Arizonan’s political operations in Michigan.) Ever since Anuzis first declared for the party helm last year, Yob has been at odds with him.
Yob attempted to recruit at least two candidates to run for chairman in ’05, but both passed on the race and onetime Teamster-turned-Lansing businessman Anuzis was elected without opposition.
Old Michigan political hands say that Yob’s feud with Anuzis has less to do with ideology, ’08 presidential politics or personality differences than with the fact that Yob once coveted the chairmanship and now just cannot stomach a state chairman he can’t control. In 1989, then-Kent County GOP Chairman Yob seriously plotted a challenge to then-State Chairman Spence Abraham (later U.S. senator and secretary of Energy). But when the position of national committeeman opened up before the state convention (incumbent Peter Secchia resigned to become U.S. ambassador to Italy), Yob switched to the far-more-winnable race for the RNC position and was elected.
Even before Election Day last month, there were published reports that Yob was making calls in an attempt to develop a challenge to Anuzis and that out of those calls, the Dishaw insurgency was born.
Not so, insisted Yob. As he told me days before the election, “I have conference calls all the time with other party leaders, including Saul Anuzis. No, I’m not behind any movement to oust him as chairman. The elections will be his mid-term. Call me Wednesday morning and I’ll tell you whether there will be a race for chairman.” (Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, also rumored to be part of the “Sink Saul” movement, had sounded very much like Yob when Yob told me in October: “Let’s get through this election. Once we determine how we did, we’ll know whether there is a race for chairman or not.”) But Yob quickly added that he would support friend Dishaw “if he wants to run for chairman.”
As throughout the country, Republicans were hit hard in Michigan in November. Their nominees for governor and U.S. senator lost badly and Republicans also lost their majority in the state house of representatives. No sooner were the election results counted than Dishaw declared for chairman and launched a website promoting his candidacy. To no one’s surprise, Yob signaled he was behind Dishaw.
But Michigan Republicans did not blame Anuzis for their state’s version of the debacle experienced by their party nationally. Dick DeVos and Mike Bouchard, the losing GOP nominees for governor and U.S. senator respectively, both weighed in strongly for Anuzis. Secchia, 2002 gubernatorial nominee Dick Posthumus, and Republican leaders in both houses of the legislature also rallied to the chairman. Of the two Republicans in statewide office, State Atty. Gen. Mike Cox threw in with Anuzis and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land was neutral. (Dishaw is employed by her husband.) Even Birmingham lawyer David Trott, whom Yob unsuccessfully sought to recruit to run for chairman in ’05, endorsed Anuzis.
“Saul is one of the hardest-working and most accessible state chairmen I can remember,” Peter Secchia told me, in effect speaking for many of the grass-roots activists as to why Anuzis should stay on. After a campaign of less than three weeks, Dishaw telephoned Anuzis to say he was throwing in the towel.
With media attention on Michigan growing because of the state’s early-bird Republican presidential primary, questions still abound about how long the calm between Anuzis and Yob will last.
“Had Dave Dishaw wanted to run, I would have supported him,” Yob told me, “But he didn’t want to go through the bloodshed that would result from an all-out war. Saul Anuzis and I have spoken and will continue to meet. We’re going to work as a team.”
Michigan was not the only state in which there were post-election rumbles among Republicans. In North Carolina, on the day on which Republican Rep. Charles Taylor lost his seat in Western North Carolina and fellow GOP Rep. Robin Hayes clung to his seat only by a thread (after a recount, he was certified the victor last week), State Republican Chairman Farrell Blount announced his resignation.
The Republican State Committee will elect his successor at a meeting scheduled for shortly before Christmas. The early front-runner is State GOP Vice-Chairman Linda Daves, but Guilford County GOP Chairman Marcus Kindley has also signaled he will run for the party post. Both are considered strong conservatives.
In Virginia, State Republican Chairman Kate Obenschain Griffin recently announced her resignation. Griffin, daughter of late State Chairman and 1978
Republican Senate nominee Dick Obenschain, will become the top aide to defeated GOP Sen. George Allen and oversee the transition between him and Democratic Sen.-elect Jim Webb.
Griffin’s certain successor is one of the more interesting choices for a state party chairmanship anywhere: Heading the Virginia GOP will be Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Chairman during George W. Bush’s winning re-election bid in ’04. Several national chairmen of both major parties have simultaneously held the state party chairmanship: John Bailey, Democratic national chairman from 1961-68, was state chairman of Connecticut at the same time, and Ray Bliss served as Republican national chairman from 1965-68 while holding down the state chairmanship in Ohio. But Gillespie, a high-powered Washington lobbyist who also headed up Allen’s political action committee, appears to be the first state chairman anywhere to have formerly been a national party head.
Changing of the Guard: Some of the 13 Republican freshmen in the U.S. House have begun to name their top aides. Vern Buchanan, certified as the winner of a much-disputed race in Florida’s 13th District, has tapped David Carvallas, chief of staff to defeated Rep. Nancy Johnson (R.-Conn.) as his right hand man. Buchanan is considered a strong conservative, while Johnson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 48%) was a leader of the liberal Republicans in the House.
Rep.-elect Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.) has turned to Brooks Kochvar, chief of staff to defeated Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), to run her office. Tennessee’s just-elected Republican David Davis has named to the same post Brenda Otterson, who was chief of staff to the man he is replacing, Republican Rep. William Jenkins.
My Mistake: Several sharp-eyed readers from North Dakota pointed out that in my October 9 “Race of the Week” feature on Republican Matt Mechtel’s bid for the state’s at-large U.S. House seat, I noted that Mechtel was from Cass County in the “Northwest corner of the state.” Cass County is actually in Southeast North Dakota.
Although I am sometimes “directionally challenged,” there was no excuse for my goof in the “Race of the Week” on Missouri’s U.S. Senate race one week later when I said that the Show Me State has 122 counties. Brian Johnson of the Missouri Republican Party promptly wrote to point out that there are 114 counties in his state. As Johnson wrote, “There are several, unique non-county voting jurisdictions in the state, including, most notably, the city of Kansas City (primarily within Jackson County but also reaching into Platte and Clay counties) … and the city of St. Louis (totally separate from St. Louis County) … But as far as counties go, it’s 114.”
And I hope that’s the end of my mistakes for ’06.