This Saturday, the 117 members of the Washington State Republican Party’s executive committee will vote to choose the man who will be chiefly responsible for managing political operations – fundraising, organizing, and message coordination – on the state level.
In 2012, Washington State Republicans will seek to gain a U.S. Senate seat, make gains in the U.S. House, win the governor’s race for the first time in more than three decades, and continue a slow march back to controlling the state legislature.
Then there’s also the small matter of electing the next president. Washington’s increased representation in the Electoral College will place more pressure on the WSRP chairman to execute the ground game.
Kirby Wilbur, long-time radio talk show host and veteran political organizer, is the correct choice to pave the road for Republican victories in 2012.
Both because of Wilbur’s strengths and current chair Luke Esser’s flaws, Wilbur should be elected to succeed Esser and assume the helm of the GOP apparatus in Washington State.
Wilbur, a skillful communicator with an amiable style and a penchant for persuasion, has a reputation for being a vigorous fundraiser, a skill that will be vital to achieving gains in the next election. Perhaps more importantly, Wilbur’s history of building relationships among conservative and mainstream Republicans compares favorably to Esser’s more establishment-centric focus.
When Republicans across America were popping champagne on Election Night 2010, celebrating a historic wave of victories, Washington State was left out. Outside of King County, the party shift at all levels of government, from Olympia to Washington, D.C., was negligible.
The frustration of squandered potential could be heard in conversations with party insiders that revealed stories of nonexistent communication and broken promises from Esser’s office.
County officials told of being unaware that statewide candidates were campaigning in their area and were thus unable to get the word out in time to boost support. Talking points on key issues were requested but never delivered.
Observers have noted that although public sentiment on two statewide initiatives was in harmony with core GOP principles – opposition to a state income tax and reinstituting a requirement for supermajority approval of tax hikes – candidates were not coaxed to take loud and public positions on the measures. Would talking points have been an effective method for coaching freshman-grade politicians in the tactics of victory?
Esser’s supporters have pointed to his strong relationship with Attorney General Rob McKenna as a reason to retain his services as chair, assuming that, as the frontrunner in cocktail party polling, McKenna should benefit from having a friend at the helm of the State GOP.
Others, though, may see Esser’s closeness to McKenna as a complication, should other Republicans toss their hats into the ring, as they almost certainly will. In no case would Wilbur go slowly in the effort to elect McKenna and, in fact, would be a greater ally in reaching out to some conservatives who have questions about McKenna and who also have little affinity with Esser.
Despite Esser’s commendable ability to articulate Republican values – values he truly believes in – winning the pivotal races in 2012 must also be paired with near-perfect execution of a winning strategy.
Wilbur’s diverse political connections, passion for the principles of smaller government, and zeal for raising money would serve the party well when it needs it most.