by Scott Wartman, firstname.lastname@example.org –
A rift in the GOP appears to have grown wider as Kentucky Republicans choose delegates who will pick their presidential nominee.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Northern Kentucky. Last week, in meetings described by many as tense, Republicans in Kenton and Campbell counties voted down two delegate slates proposed by the party leadership. Slates of delegates proffered by tea party leaders in the counties beat out slates with established Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.
Some saw it as a victory for the tea party faction. Others just described it as the system working.
“It appears that we cannot continue to ignore the current rift in Northern Kentucky between tea party Republicans and traditional Republicans,” said Greg Shumate, Kenton County’s Republican Party chairman.
This might foreshadow contentious conventions in the next few weeks in Kentucky. The delegates picked at the county level will go to conventions in Kentucky’s six congressional districts leading up to the April 23 state convention in Lexington. It’s at the district and state conventions that they will pick their delegates for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
What we’re seeing might be the death throes of the Republican Party, said Ryan Salzman, a political science professor at Northern Kentucky University. Or, more likely, it might be a shift toward a more libertarian-slanted Republican Party, Salzman said.
While it might be tempting to blame Republican front-runner Donald Trump, the Republican discord began April 15, 2009, when the first tea party protest occurred in Washington, Salzman said.
“Trump is a catalyst that sparked the powder keg, but is not the powder keg,” Salzman said.
Republican officials were vague on whether the tea party victories seen in Campbell and Kenton counties were repeated around the state.
“Every county has their own dynamic of who they want to go into the convention,” said Mike Biagi, executive director of the Republican Party of Kentucky. “We’re seeing a good process where people have input in that selection.”
‘If you’re not expecting something unusual, then you’re a fool’
Those sympathetic to the tea party in Northern Kentucky praised the outcome. Others were more guarded.
That’s the first time Northern Kentucky GOP leader Kevin Sell remembers the slate proposed by the county GOP executive committee getting voted down. Sell chaired the Campbell County meeting at Wilder City Hall last Monday.
“That’s a big deal, in terms of the process,” Sell said.
Sell said he saw many new faces he didn’t recognize at the county convention. He believes what’s happening in the party is a mix of the tea party, Trump and the aftereffect of the Kentucky GOP presidential caucus March 5.
“I would say it’s unusual,” Sell said. “We’re at that time right now in the election, if you’re not expecting something unusual, then you’re a fool.”
The alternative slates in both counties were proposed by Northern Kentucky Tea Party leaders: Erik Hermes in Campbell County and Garth Kuhnhein in Kenton County. The full slate in Kenton County wasn’t available. Campbell County’s includes supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Trump. One of Trump’s Northern Kentucky representatives, former District Judge Tim Nolan, is on the Campbell County slate.
Hermes and Kuhnhein said the slates are full of a wide variety of Republicans, not just tea party. Kenton’s list of delegates includes Fort Wright Mayor Dave Hatter, Covington City Commissioner Steve Frank and Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn, Kuhnhein said.
“I don’t think it’s a statement sent at all,” Hermes said. “It was the process working. There’s a growing concern or disappointment with the Republican Party leadership. I stress, not the party but the leadership.”
Many delegates from Campbell and Kenton counties didn’t want to comment or didn’t return calls. Those who would talk said it was dissatisfaction with the local party, not support of Trump or Cruz, that spurred the contentious meetings.
Barbara Weber, a delegate selected from Alexandria, said she and others have felt they haven’t had a say in Republican politics locally.
“It was quite tense,” Weber said. “There’s no communication to the general membership. There was a lot of anger in the room.”
Calls to Bunning and Campbell County GOP Chairman Jeff Kidwell were not returned.
Candidates meddling in state conventions?
Trump and the other candidates appear they are stirring the pot in Kentucky and other states. Politico reported representatives with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Cruz attended state conventions to persuade delegates to vote for their candidates if Trump isn’t elected on the first ballot in Cleveland.
Operatives for Trump, Kasich and Cruz have all contacted the Republican Party of Kentucky interested in attending the meetings at the county, district and state level, said Biagi. He couldn’t speak to their activities.
Trump won Kentucky in the March 5 GOP caucus, getting 17 of the state’s 46 delegates. Cruz came in second and will get 15 delegates. Kasich will get seven Kentucky delegates. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race after the Kentucky caucus, received seven delegates as well.
Republicans in Northern Kentucky said they weren’t aware of operatives meddling in the local conventions, though some had suspicions.
We’ll know more this Saturday in Boone County at the district convention for the 20 counties in the 4th Congressional District. It will be the first convention of Kentucky’s six congressional districts.
Kentucky came out with heavy support for Cruz, who won Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.
Both Kuhnhein and Hermes said they voted for Cruz.
Weber voted for Cruz, but said she’ll vote for Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland if she’s picked as one of Kentucky’s delegates. If it’s a contested convention in Cleveland and goes to a second ballot, she doesn’t know.
“I think a lot of people are torn between the two candidates,” Weber said. “Both have strong points. This has been the most ridiculous political race I’ve ever seen. It’s so mean and hateful.”
Whatever is going on and whatever will happen, the Republican Party won’t likely come out unscathed, many said.
“No doubt this decade will be looked at as a calamitous decade for the Republican Party,” Salzman said.