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Campaign 2012

Chairman of N.H. Republican party facing pressure to resign

Jack Kimball, a former Tea Party organizer, says he won’t leave voluntarily; that would cause ‘a deep, deep fissure.’ Jack Kimball, a former Tea Party organizer, says he won’t leave voluntarily; that would cause ‘a deep, deep fissure.’
By Shira Schoenberg
Globe Correspondent / August 24, 2011

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Some key New Hampshire GOP officials and politicians are seeking to oust Jack Kimball as chairman of the state Republican Party, blaming him for anemic fund-raising, poor showings in special elections, and a failure to mobilize all elements of the party.

Kimball, whose ascension to the chairmanship in January over an establishment candidate was seen as a victory for Tea Party activists, said he has no intention of stepping down.

“I met and spoke with a lot of high-ranking Republicans over the weekend, with my wife and my family, and unanimously they all said it would be the worst thing that could happen to the party for me to step down,’’ Kimball said yesterday. “It would cause a deep, deep fissure and a wound that would not heal anytime soon.’’

The divisions are threatening to create a distraction just as presidential primary campaigning accelerates in the key early state. Some officials are calling for a quick resolution.

A Sept. 1 meeting of the 36-member GOP Executive Committee has been scheduled to consider Kimball’s fate. Member Jim Foley said he does not believe the committee has enough votes to remove Kimball but that increasing pressure and dissatisfaction may ultimately prompt him to step down.

“I’m hopeful, and it’s a goal I’ve been working toward, to either work it out or have Jack resign for the good of the party without having to force him out,’’ Foley said.

Foley said Kimball upset people by not reaching out to Republicans beyond the more conservative element of the party. Kimball, however, said he has always focused on unifying the party.

“The leaks and e-mails and innuendo and all the stuff that’s swirling around, all of that is being leaked by a small group of people who are not happy that I’m in this position,’’ he said.

Kimball and other Republicans confirmed that Republican New Hampshire congressmen Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta, Senator Kelly Ayotte, state Senate President Peter Bragdon, and House Speaker William O’Brien held a conference call last week, then sent O’Brien to urge Kimball to resign. O’Brien and Kimball met Friday, and Kimball informed O’Brien Monday that he has no intention of leaving. The Union Leader, the conservative Manchester newspaper, has also called on Kimball to resign.

Kimball also accuses the Republican Governors Association of trying to pressure him into departing, by agreeing to donate $100,000 to the state party if he resigns. The conservative blog GraniteGrok first reported the alleged tactic.

“The contents in that piece are accurate,’’ Kimball told the Globe.

Mike Schrimpf, spokesman for the association, responded in an e-mail, “The RGA knows the value of strong state parties and believes it is important for the New Hampshire GOP to be running at full strength in 2012. Recent news reports about the RGA’s commitment to New Hampshire are wrong.’’

Several Executive Committee members declined to discuss internal politics. But Kimball has supporters. “I suspect a lot of this is Democrat-driven,’’ said member Nancy Elliott. “I think a lot of the problems are just the economy, as far as raising money.’’

If Kimball were to leave, party Vice Chairman Wayne MacDonald said, one scenario being discussed by some committee members is for MacDonald to lead the party through the presidential primary, with a new election for chairman held soon afterward.

Kimball runs a commercial cleaning company. He became involved in politics when he founded the Granite State Patriots, a group dedicated to supporting US troops, and he later became a Tea Party organizer. He ran for governor in 2010 but lost the Republican primary.

Since Kimball took over as GOP chairman, one of the party’s bank accounts declined to just $1,300, prompting Kimball to bring in former Senate candidate Bill Binnie to help raise money. After major victories in 2010, Republicans saw a string of defeats in special elections. Last week, Kimball fired the party’s executive director, Will Wrobleski.

Some party members also are upset by a photograph posted on WMUR that showed Kimball signing a petition to allow the Libertarian Party on the state ballot - a potential violation of party bylaws.

Kimball said fund-raising is difficult because of the recession and because presidential candidates are asking the same people for money. He blamed Republican complacency and a strong Democratic effort for the special-election losses. And he said he withdrew his signature as soon as he realized the intent was to allow the Libertarian Party - not a specific candidate - on the ballot. But the fissures within the party may be his undoing.

“Party unity has to trump everything, and clearly right now there isn’t party unity,’’ said Kevin Smith, director of the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action and a potential gubernatorial candidate.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.