New Hampshire Republicans Say They Have The Votes To Oust Embattled State Chairman [UPDATED]
WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Tea Party leader Jack Kimball, will be notified Thursday that members of the party's executive committee will vote on whether to remove him at a Sept. 1 meeting, sources in the state told The Huffington Post.
Two sources said at least 20 of the 36 committee members support removing Kimball. Only 19 are needed to do so. If Kimball is voted out, longtime vice chairman Wayne McDonald would take over the chairman's spot.
Kimball called the meeting himself in response to growing controversy over his seven-month-old chairmanship that has spilled into the national spotlight this week, following accusations by Kimball that national and state Republicans are withholding money from the state party to force him to step down.
Kimball spokeswoman Christine Barratta told HuffPost Wednesday that the Sept. 1 meeting is not intended to be a venue for a vote on Kimball's future.
"The meeting is not called for that specific reason," she said. She also said she did not know whether such a vote could be prevented.
But the bylaws of the New Hampshire party clearly state: "Any officer may be removed at any time by a majority of the members of the Committee or by a majority of the members of the Executive Committee." The only stipulation is that the targeted officer be notified by mail five days beforehand.
And developments over the past week indicate that Kimball has little hope of weathering the current storm. The top Republicans in the state -- Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Frank Guinta and Rep. Charlie Bass -- have all called on Kimball to resign. They delivered that message to Kimball through the state House Speaker Bill O'Brien, who is himself aligned with Tea Party groups in the state and echoed the call to step down.
"When the five senior elected Republicans tell you it's time to go, I don't think you have a choice, because if they're not going to work with you to raise money, how are you ever going to do it?" Steve Duprey, a former state party chairman who is a Republican National Committee member and is on the state executive committee, told HuffPost.
Duprey's count of the top five elected Republicans in New Hampshire also includes state Senate President Peter Bragdon.
New Hampshire Republicans are concerned about the imbroglio, but said they believe the matter can be put behind them quickly without impacting their ability to host the Republican presidential primary next winter. New Hampshire Republicans are the first to vote in the primary process, coming only after Iowa's caucuses.
Kimball did not return a message left on his cell phone. One of his top supporters, however, Tea Party leader Jerry DeLemus, told HuffPost he did not think that the party bylaws allowed the executive committee to remove Kimball, and predicted he would not be booted if such a vote did take place.
"I think he'll survive it," DeLemus said of the controversy.
DeLemus also told HuffPost that many Tea Party activists will leave the Republican party if Kimball is ousted, though he downplayed any talk of forming a third party.
One executive committee member, Jim Foley, told the Boston Globe on Tuesday that he does not think there are enough votes to remove Kimball. Foley did not respond to an email request for comment.
Kimball, a small business owner from Dover, N.H., got involved in state politics when he founded the Tea Party group the Granite State Patriots in 2009. He won the chairmanship in January despite opposition from powerful New Hampshire Republicans such as former Gov. John H. Sununu, who was the outgoing party chairman.
Since then, however, his performance has drawn little praise even from his staunchest supporters. He has been a lackluster fundraiser, he has not built relationships with either Republican officials and activists or with the press, and he has not been an aggressive or loud voice speaking out against Democrats. Instead, he has drawn media attention by making several gaffes -- the most recent being his signature of a petition to allow the Libertarian party on the ballot in the general election.
Besides the fact that a Libertarian candidate would siphon votes away from a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Granite State Republicans believe that Kimball has violated the party's bylaws by signing the petition.
In addition to all this, the Republicans have also lost two special elections for state legislature seats, prompting more criticism of Kimball and also raising questions about the actual influence of Tea Party groups.
In response to all this, Kimball and his supporters have resorted to accusations of bribery by national Republicans. Kimball told the Manchester Union-Leader that O'Brien told him the Republican Governors Association was withholding $100,000 from the state party on the condition that he resign from the chairmanship. It was an allegation first aired on a Tea Party-affiliated blog. The RGA has denied this. O'Brien is not commenting on the matter.
But early Wednesday morning, an anonymous e-mail was sent to reporters that claimed to be from a new Tea Party group, the Granite State TEA Party. It attacked Sununu for opposing Kimball last winter, and said the chairman " has been operating with one hand tied behind his back" because of the lack of support from others in the party.
The email described the $100,000 that was supposedly being withheld as "blood money" and said that "an all out civil war is brewing in New Hampshire between 'establishment' and TEA Party Republicans."
No name was attached to the email. And an anonymous spokesman told a Patch reporter in New Hampshire that the group's members did not want to be named because of "the recent targeting of Tea Party members by the establishment."
Notably, Tea Party leaders and politicians affiliated with the grassroots movement kept a low profile. Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, and Ovide Lamontagne, a likely candidate for governor in 2012, are usually quick to respond to media requests. On Wednesday, there was nothing but silence from the two, though Hemingway told HuffPost late in the day that he was out of the country.
Duprey said he decided on Wednesday that he will cast a vote against Kimball.
"This is a good man who has put his heart and soul into it, but it hasn't worked out very well," he said.
Duprey added that national Republicans might in fact have a rational reason for withholding money from the New Hampshire GOP.
"I'm sure that all of the Republican national committee components want to make sure that we got a party that's functioning before they send any money here, but I have no knowledge if they've offered it or anything else. I mean, I can tell you as a member of the RNC ... when we have a state party that's in turmoil, you sure look hard at whether you're going to send money there," he said.
Update: 9:18 p.m. - Kimball has called a press conference for Thursday morning at 11 a.m. in Manchester. It is unclear whether he intends to resign or not.