Republicans reacted with exasperation last night after Republican Honey Puterbaugh lost in a rout to Democrat Bob Perry in the Strafford Country District 3 special election House race.
NH Journal spoke to several Republican activists, leaders and donors who all seem to blame GOP Chairman Jack Kimball and his staff for the humbling defeat.
“Jack told us this would never happen again,” said one GOP leader, referring to a string of GOP special election defeats. “I think he’s in way over his head.”
Indeed, after losing an important special election in May, Kimball promised GOP leaders and the press he would not lose another one.
“Let’s be honest,” Kimball said at the time, “the buck stops with me. This all happened on my watch and I take full responsibility for it. It’s a matter of process. I’m going to take a look at the entire process. We’re having meetings today about it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
House and Senate Republican leaders have privately told people they have lost all confidence in Kimball.
Tuesday’s defeat could not come at a worse time for Kimball. Last week, Kimball had to defend his association with controversial activist Joe Barton after Barton used the state party’s Facebook page to advertise a price on the head of a Republican State Senator.
By mid-June, Kimball had depleted state party funds to a mere $1,300. This forced Kimball to bring in Bill Binnie, the millionaire former U.S. Senate candidate, to straighten out the party’s finances. Lately, Binnie has seemed more like the party chair than Kimball. Binnie has doled out fundraising assignments to the federal delegation and other state GOP leaders at three successive meetings while Kimball sat nearby almost silent.
“He [Kimball] was just sitting there,” one GOP source told us after one of these meetings. “He didn’t say a word. Bill Binnie is basically the chairman of the party now.”
Binnie has also been more aggressive about attempting to place blame for the party’s woes directly on former Chairman John H. Sununu. Binnie claims that Sununu left the state party with “massive deficits” and has refused to hand over valuable fundraising lists. An NH Journal investigation into FEC reports as well as deep background interviews reveal Binnie’s claims to be untrue.
And sources tell us that Binnie has been pining for a major staff shake-up at the NHGOP. For weeks he has agitated to bring in his own loyalists to replace all or some of Kimball’s staff. Several Republicans we spoke to last night suggested the special election loss would give Binnie the perfect opportunity to do so.
Many Republicans have speculated that another special election defeat, like Tuesday’s, would be the final straw and that Kimball would need to step aside as chairman and give someone else a chance.
“Maybe Binnie should just take over,” one Republican told us.
In terms of policy, the special election defeat almost certainly eliminates the possibility that so-called Right-to-Work legislation – a major GOP priority – will become law. Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien has been working hard behind the scenes to earn enough votes to override a Gov. John Lynch veto. There is little chance he will achieve the necessary votes now.