Last night inside the Charles River West conference room of the Newton Marriott, the Massachusetts Republican State Committee ignored the candidacy of fellow State Committeeman Bill McCarthy & by secret ballot re-elected Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour to another two-year term by a wide margin. Nassour received 50 votes, McCarthy obtained 16, two voters abstained, & one voter cast a write-in vote.
Anyone familiar with the election’s backstory wasn’t surprised at the outcome. McCarthy’s campaign existed – in part – due to the collection of grievances (real or imagined) held by activists aimed against the GOP establishment in general & Nassour in particular (viewed by some as the personification of said establishment). Even National Republican Committee persons Ron Kaufman & Jody Dow weren’t immune from the dark aspersions cast upon them by a handful of disgruntled activists peppered within the crowd who viewed both Kaufman & Dow at best as “tools” or at worst as “puppet masters”.
The geography of the meeting certainly contributed towards legitimizing the paranoia of those who came to observe the proceedings. A sliver of the room was roped off from the main area set aside for the 80 state committee members expected to attend. As the state committee members filtered into the room to take their seats after imbibing water/soda/coffee, almost 100 visitors crammed cheek to jowl within the aforementioned sliver were forced to stand on their feet for nearly two hours to watch the meeting unfold. A sign on the wall of the room said its maximum capacity was 90 people. Thankfully nobody fainted.
State Committeewoman Sheila Richardson played to this crowd by publicly expressing her outrage to Nassour over the lack of proper accommodations for the party’s visitors. Richardson was ruled out of order & received “boos” from several of her fellow committee persons. The crowd cheered their approval of Richardson’s comments. MassResistance founder Brian Camenker eagerly took one photo after the other.
The atmosphere in the room from that point on was charged between those inside the demarcation line & those outside of it. The symbolism of division between the party & its grass roots was hard to ignore.
So too was McCarthy’s politicking at the hotel. I saw him greet state committee members at the hotel entrance as early as 5:45 PM & lobby them for their vote. Nassour & her entourage were ensconced one floor below in a private room glad-handing state committee members. I tried to check it out but was politely told by the young man posted at the door that the event was a private affair. “The general public can view the meeting upstairs,” he added. Nassour would later on remind the general public at the start of the meeting that anyone caught disrupting it would be speedily removed. The crowd kept itself well behaved.
McCarthy button-holed committee members inside the conference room. One of his supporters in the crowd claimed to all who would listen that McCarthy was three votes shy of victory. Nassour meanwhile was busy greeting politicians such as State Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) & House Representative George Peterson (R-Grafton) as they made their way into the conference room. Some State committee persons blew air kisses to Nassour. Even Brad Marston was seen walking around the room with a hand-made political button on his lapel. It had Nassour’s photo on it and the copy on it read, “I’m For Jenn.”
A motion was made by State Committeeman Mike Potaski & seconded by State Committeewoman Shari Worthington to nominate McCarthy as a candidate for the position of chair. Nassour’s nomination for re-election was made possible by a motion put forth by State Committeewoman Dow & seconded by State Committeeman David Rose. With no other nominations being offered, the floor was closed and the two candidates each had five minutes to pitch their respective candidacies before the state committee. McCarthy offered no critique of Nassour’s tenure; he instead offered himself up as a “uniter” who would be focused on the “core values” of the “grass roots” & build alliances with Tea Party activists along with other groups who don’t often interact with the GOP. Nassour reminded her audience that under her leadership the party’s debt had been retired, that gains were made in the Legislature for the first time in 20 years, & that – while there had been some “disappointments” (notably the party’s wipe-out at the congressional & state-wide level during a “wave” year which favored Republicans) – she & her team had laid down the foundation for building an even stronger party poised to make even bigger gains in the 2012 election cycle.
The results of last night’s election suggested that the state committee accepted Nassour’s narrative & wanted her to continue her efforts in re-building the party. The size of Nassour’s victory was essentially a vote of confidence from the committee members in her leadership & should provide Nassour the comfort level she needs to proceed with her plans to put the party in better shape for the 2012 election cycle.
McCarthy’s failure can be traced to his unpreparedness at the last GOP state committee meeting. His failed efforts to oust Nassour back then made him look incompetent. Ironically enough, McCarthy’s challenge forced fence-sitters to support Nassour along with her loyal followers. Ultimately, McCarthy decision last night not to be critical of Nassour’s tenure meant that his candidacy lacked a raison d’etre.
I wasn’t surprised that McCarthy decided to cross over to the other side of the barrier in order to show his solidarity with the crowd who was largely there to support him. In essence, he was consciously exploiting the “us-vs-them” symbolism which the divider represented. His gesture also reflects another dimension of last night’s election. One unmistakable tremor that could be detected was that in some ways the fight between McCarthy & Nassour was also a parallel fight between the Republicans in the Worcester area versus the GOP’s traditional establishment axis from the Cape/Boston/North Shore area. Given the animosity against the Tea Party held by some elements of the aforementioned GOP axis, I can foresee a time of increased conflict between those Republicans who embrace the Tea Party & those Republicans who don’t.
Is the conflict inevitable? I don’t know. Watching last night’s version of a political reality show induced in me a sad sense of deja-vu. Both sides were talking PAST each other, not AT each other. The forces behind McCarthy will probably add last night’s election as yet another notch on their grievance belt, tug at the hair shirts of their emotions, & continue to wail & gnash their teeth without considering any rational approach which would advance their interests. The forces behind Nassour will conversely cite Nassour’s victory as vindication/validation of their technocratic (rather than fusionistic) approach to politics & will be more interested in buttressing the “I’m For Jenn” cult of personality meme than in dealing with the narrative of political reality in all its partisan hues. Last night was another GOP episode of missed opportunities.