The surprise election of political newcomer Jack Kimball as Republican State Chairman of New Hampshire was such a major political story as to rate immediate posting on the New York Times website yesterday and a Page Three story in the Washington Post today.
To get the story from both publications, Kimball was a “tea party figure” (the Post‘s headline) who stunned the Granite State political establishment with his election as state party chairman yesterday. In winning the GOP helm by a vote of 220-to-199 of the Republican state committee, Kimball defeated Chesire County GOP Chairman Juliana Bergeron, who was backed by most of the established party leaders (among them outgoing State Chairman and onetime White House Chief of Staff John Sununu).
Because of Kimball’s ties to tea party groups and his status as a political newcomer (he apparently never contributed to GOP candidates or attended any party meetings until running unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor last year), there is the underlying suggestion in the national news reports that the tea party movement had taken over the party organization in the state that is home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Unwritten, but hinted at, is that this state chairman’s race portends trouble down the road for the state Republican Party.
And, as is often the case when national reporters don’t dig deeper with sources within a particular state, this is only part of the story and the conclusion is not necessarily so.
Although janitorial service owner Kimball is a genuine newcomer to politics who was backed by state tea partiers, that was by no means the sole reason for his headline-making victory. As one conservative GOP activist in the state (who requested anonymity) told me, “Folks knew Jack from his race for governor last year, in which he placed second among three candidates. He met with the individual state committee members. Juliana got a lot of endorsements, all right, but she was not well known outside Chesire County and did not get out to meet the committee members the way Jack did.”
The same activist pointed out that, in past contests for state chairman, the turnout of the 493-member state committee never exceeded 375 and was more frequently in the 200-to-300 range. But in this contest, he told me, “419 of the 479 eligible members [there were vacancies on the committee] turned out, and several held proxies for the members who could not attend. That’s an all-time record.”
As to whether Kimball’s win spells a tea party “takeover” of the party, the evidence is slim, if not non-existent. In a straw poll of 2012 presidential favorites at the same meeting, 35% of the committee said their favorite was Mitt Romney–not exactly the first choice of the tea partiers–and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 8%, edging out tea party heroines Sarah Palin (7%) and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (5%).
The same committee that elected Kimball chairman also elected Concord hotelier Steve Duprey as the new GOP national committeeman by a comfortable margin. Duprey, who has backed Republicans of all stripes and was constantly criticized by conservatives during his eight years as state chairman, handily defeated tea party candidate and State Rep. Jordan Ulrey–and Duprey won without being present at the meeting (he was on a cruise with his wife in Anarctica). (Duprey’s duels with conservatives are long-standing; when I was on John McCain’s campaign plane waiting to interview the presidential nominee in October of ’08, fellow passenger Duprey good-naturedly reminded me how he worked in the 1972 New Hampshire primary campaign of anti-war Rep. Pete McCloskey of California against then-President Richard Nixon).
Kimball did indeed suggest to NHJournal.com before his election that he might become involved in the presidential primary next year, a position from which party rules bar the chairman. But upon winning the chairmanship Saturday, Kimball made it clear he knew the rules of the game, that it was his responsibility “to remain neutral and to make sure that there is an even playing field for all candidates.”
The Post did report that. But on so much more about this most important political story, the national media clearly didn’t tell, in the late Paul Harvey’s words, “the rest of the story.”