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NH GOP: We Were Outspent, Out-Organized In 2018

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
A ballot inspector gives out stickers in Manchester's Ward 1 on Election Day, 2018

New Hampshire Republicans had a brutally honest conversation this weekend about the state party’s dysfunction, and how it led to being “outspent, out-organized and out-messaged” by Democrats in the midterm elections.

Republicans gathered in Derry Saturday for their annual state party convention, which is typically a rally-like affair filled with back-slapping and poking fun at Democrats. But this year, the vibe was decidedly less upbeat. State GOP leaders were honest with members about how deep their financial and organizational troubles run.

“We’re in a little bit of a blip right now, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve gotta lick our wounds a little bit,” Gov. Chris Sununu told the crowd.

In New Hampshire, Republicans got crushed in November. They lost majorities in the state House, Senate and Executive Council and they didn’t flip the two congressional seats from blue to red.

New Hampshire Republicans face the same questions Republicans across the country do, including how to court younger voters and how to deal with Republicans who don’t like President Trump. But the state Republican party as an organization has been struggling for years.

Last June, Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester quit abruptly - right in the middle of an election year.

And when then vice-chair Wayne MacDonald took over, there was just $650 dollars in the party bank account, and they faced more than $60,000 in debt and unpaid bills.

“The Salem Republican Town Committee has more money in its account than the state GOP,” Salem Republican Treasurer Ed Huminick said in the lobby before the meeting. “Think about that.”

State of Democracy is NHPR's reporting project focusing on the scope and impact of politics and policy in New Hampshire

Fellow Salem Republican committeeman Steven Goddu nodded along.

“That’s right. And we don’t have that much money!” he said.

Goddu and Huminick are old friends, and they worry about how split New Hampshire Republicans seem to be these days, especially at the Statehouse.

“The Democrats may disagree on a bill, they all vote together. Not the Republicans! We’ve lost House votes because the far right wing, it’s either [their] way or no way,” Huminick said.

And this is where New Hampshire Republicans are at right now: Complimenting Democrats at their own annual unity meeting.

There was, of course, still some of the usual Democrat bashing from party leaders. House Minority Leader Dick Hinch called Democrats “bat sh*t crazy” and called fellow Republicans to scream out “Hell, no” while Hinch read Democratic proposals.

But on the whole, the message was clear: The party needs to make some serious changes if they’re gonna win in 2020.

“The days of doing it as we have done it are done, they are done,” Sununu said.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Outside NHPR's studio, supporters for Democratic congressional candidate (and eventual winner) Chris Pappas greatly outnumbered those for his Republican opponent Eddie Edwards

Sununu was the last Republican standing after the November elections, but he’s been criticized by fellow Republicans for turning his back on the party’s dysfunction.

On Saturday, he tried to take responsibility - someone in the crowd even yelled back, “atta boy.”

“Let’s talk about money for a second. If you’re not willing to raise or give some money, you better reconsider what you want to do with leadership in this party. It’s about the dollars - make no mistake about that,” he said.

To underscore the point, Sununu finished his keynote speech by handing over a $5,000 personal check to the party leadership.

But the person who will be tasked with fixing these problems full time is Steve Stepanek, a former lawmaker who helped run Donald Trump’s New Hampshire campaign. He was elected Saturday as party chairman, beating out conservative radio host Keith Hanson and perennial candidate Michael Callis.

Stepanek said many people have asked him why he’d even want such a thankless job.

“I cannot do this alone. I’m going to look at every single one of you to put out much more effort than you’ve ever done before because we’ve got a long road to go,”  Stepanek said.

Uniting the party will be tough. The anti-Trump wing of the party, for example, is concerned with Stepanek’s close ties to the president, while many in the far-right wing are fed up with people who don’t support Trump.

As for fundraising, Stepanek said he’s drafting a business plan and heading to Washington, DC soon.

In the meantime, local Republicans are being asked to pass the hat - literally. Make America Great Again hats were passed around the auditorium during the meeting, and members tossed in whatever cash they had.

Lauren is a Senior Reporter/Producer for NHPR's narrative news unit, Document.
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