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This interview synopsis with Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Peter Torkildsen is the first in a series of interviews with conservative and libertarian leaders throughout the state. The purpose of the series, What Happens Next, is to gather perspectives on the current state of the Massachusetts Republican Party and Massachusetts politics. Future interviews will be presented in a variety of formats: video, audio, slideshow, etc. This interview, due to scheduling conflicts, was not recorded.
Torkildsen, the outgoing chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, cited excitement surrounding the Democrat at the top of the ticket as the main reason for local Republican failures at the ballot box. “The top of the ticket has a major impact because it drives people to get out and vote. Democratic turn out this year was at the highest ever,” Torkildsen said.
“There were many new voters and most of these new voters were young people. All our candidates for 2010 must go after these people. They will be voting for the next 50 years and the party should not give up on them,” he said.
Torkildsen expects that President-elect Barack Obama will not live up to the expectations that young people have for him. This is where he thinks Republicans can make inroads in 2010, “They’re going to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t the change I wanted.'”
“The GOP brand is tarnished and the state party has very few leaders. There is a lot of work to be done between now and 2010,” he said.
The former congressman will not be around as chairman for the 2010 elections. About a week after the election he declared that he would not seek another term as chairman. This has opened the door for Jennifer Nassour, among others, to pick up where Torkildsen left off. He is particularly proud of the campaign and candidate schools that the state party conducted during his tenure as party chairman. “The candidates and campaign managers who attended our campaign schools did very well. Most of them finished with 45-48% of the vote,” he said.
Declining to comment on his yet-to-be-chosen successor he offered some advice for the future chair of the party: become a big tent party again, analyze the current situation and the general state of the GOP brand in Massachusetts, tap into the new volunteers and expand fundraising.
“When I first ran almost all of the Republicans were fiscal conservatives and there was an even mix of social conservatives and social moderates. Today there are far fewer social moderates. It was a big tent party where each Republican could represent his district and I don’t know if that is the case anymore,” he said.
“The fiscal conservatives held the social moderates and social conservatives together. Today, I think social conservatives are a bigger percentage of a smaller pie. The moderates need to make a come back and so do the libertarians. There are more conservative voters than registered Republicans and we need to bring them back into the fold. The Republican Party has to become a big tent party in this state again,” Torkildsen said.
When asked about a possible name change for the state party he was not very receptive and suggested that a re-branding of the party would be more beneficial. “We’ve let the Democrats brand us and renaming the party won’t solve that problem. We need to actually stand up for the Republican principles of reform and fiscal discipline. We have a tremendous opportunity here with the steady flow of corruption on Beacon Hill. The GOP needs to offer an alternative to the corruption,” he said.
And what does an outgoing party chairman do after he leaves?
“I plan on staying very active. If there is a primary for a special election for US Senate I would choose a side,” he said.
He declined to speculate on candidates or who he would back in a special election.