FRONT-RUNNER: John Whitbeck has a 3-point plan to revitalize the state Republican Party.
By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
John Whitbeck emerged as the odds-on favorite to chair the Republican Party of Virginia after rival Eric Herr withdrew from the contest.
The state GOP Central Committee is scheduled to select a successor to retiring RPV Chairman Pat Mullins on Jan. 31, and Whitbeck has a three-point plan to revitalize the party.
In an interview with Watchdog, Whitbeck outlined his top priorities:
- Rebuild the party’s fundraising apparatus.
- Return to the grassroots by putting local activists in charge of election campaigns.
- Stop the infighting.
“Any chairman coming in is going to have to deal with a very fractured party right now,” Whitbeck said. “We have dueling consultants, slating and a host of other issues that need to be addressed. Everyone has a reason to be mad.”
Mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post stirred the pot last week by labeling both Whitbeck and Herr tea partyers. That’s not-so-subtle code for “extremist,” or worse.
Whitbeck says he has never belonged to a tea party group, though he periodicially attends visits meetings near his Northern Shenandoah Valley home. At 38, he has been involved in Republican Party politics long before the tea party burst was born.
The attorney is quick to say Republicans need “better engagement with minorities and women” while empowering local activists.
“People in Roanoke are better than consultants from out of state when it comes to organizing campaigns in Roanoake,” Whitbeck offered.
As for the role of the state party, the former state Senate candidate said the RPV must stop relying on elected officials for campaign cash.
“We need to take (fundraising) national. Virginia is a battleground state in presidential elections, and we need to be more aggressive.”
Ron Meyer, who ran against Whitbeck in the Senate primary, said his former foe has “proven to be a successful party leader, especially when it comes to running party nominating contests.”
“The 10th Congressional District’s firehouse primary he ran set a model for how our party can reach a wide group of voters while still keeping the process outside the control of the state,” Meyer said. “We engaged 14,000 voters at the primary, versus just a couple hundred at the closed convention in the 11th District.”
The party will, undoubtedly, continue to debate the merits of conventions versus primaries – and Whitbeck vows that all voices will be heard.
“We took the 10th District from being fractured to giving everyone a seat at the table,” he said.
The result was Barbara Comstock’s convincing win over a Democratic challenger in the closely split Northern Virginia district.
Looking ahead, Whitbeck is hopeful his three-point plan produces more victories statewide, where the GOP has lost ground in recent elections.
With 2013 attorney general candidate Sen. Mark Obenshain endorsing Whitbeck, the 10th District GOP chairman appears to have the inside track to try, reported the conservative political blog, Bull Elephant.
Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward