Discontent about Minnesota GOP chairman Ron Carey's endorsement of Mike Huckabee for president surfaced Thursday night at the party's executive committee meeting in St. Paul, and the committee asked the party's central committee to consider prohibiting paid party officers from endorsing candidates.
Carey riled some party activists this week when he endorsed the former Arkansas governor. Some sources said his action is causing growing discord among Republican activists, with some insisting that his support of a candidate could undermine party unity less than a month before Minnesotans vote in precinct caucuses.
It's unusual for a state party leader to endorse a candidate so early in a presidential race, especially when other party activists are backing other candidates. While Carey emphasized that his support is personal, others expressed doubts that he could separate his support for Huckabee from his role as state chairman.
After the meeting broke up shortly before 10 p.m., party spokesman Mark Drake said executive committee members had "a vigorous, good discussion" of Carey's roles as party chairman and Huckabee supporter.
Drake said Carey's status as party chairman wasn't threatened in the meeting, and that no one asked him to step aside from the Huckabee campaign.
Drake said the decision to consider barring paid party officials from doing similar campaign work in the future was the only action taken.
This would make sense. There isn't an upside to having a public vetting at a state central committee. Recent Minnesota Republican Chair races have been very divisive to the party.
Andy Aplikowski gets his moment in the sun:
Were assurances given?
But one party activist who said he has contacts in the room reported that committee members won assurances from Carey that he would limit his campaign work for Huckabee and not use state party funds for it.
"We don't need this mess right now," said the activist, Andy Aplikowski , a delegate to the state central committee and a Carey opponent. He said the controversy could hurt party efforts leading up to the Feb. 5 precinct caucuses.
He expressed doubt that the controversy would disappear because some activists, he said, will wonder who Carey is working for before the caucuses.
"You just don't switch it off," he said of Carey's support of Huckabee. "When we need him to make a good decision on our behalf, can we trust him ... or is he going to go with his heart again?"
Executive committee meetings are closed to the public, but members leaving the meeting Thursday night confirmed the committee's action.
"There was a pretty robust discussion about the situation," said Secretary-Treasurer Tony Sutton.
The Rochester Post-Bulletin Editorializes about Carey's Antics:
Carey's announcement, however, is puzzling. Whatever Huckabee's merits as a candidate, Carey now will be serving two masters. As GOP party chief, he leads a staff that he says will remain neutral throughout the nominating process. But at the same time, he'll be spearheading the campaign for one of the Republican contenders.
Does that mean he'll work for all of the candidates by day, then put on his Huckabee for President button at 5 p.m. and start making phone calls?
And keep in mind that this is no ordinary election year for the Minnesota GOP -- the party will host the Republican National Convention in September. If McCain, Romney or Giuliani arrive as the de facto nominee, don't expect Carey to be high on the list of people with whom they want to eat dinner.
What's even more puzzling is that Carey seems fully aware of the risks he's taking. "I'm going to take some hits for this," he told a Pioneer Press reporter, but added, "If you're looking for World War III in the Republican Party, I think you're going to be disappointed."
Given Minnesota's swing-state status, the state GOP should be doing everything it can to avoid not just wars but even the slightest unnecessary interparty skirmishes, which is precisely what Carey is creating. He didn't need to endorse Huckabee before his defeat in New Hampshire, and one could certainly make the case that the Minnesota GOP should keep its powder dry at least until South Carolina has weighed in. After all, of the few advantages of having a later primary is that it's easier to handicap the race. Carey has given back that advantage.
When asked to comment on Carey's decision, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester was fairly blunt. "I wouldn't have done it," he said. "I don't know what compelled him to do it, and it's not his job to endorse a candidate at this point. But in the end, I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make."
We'll be even more blunt. If Carey truly believes Mike Huckabee is "the best of the best," then he should resign as party chief. That would allow him to work full time for the former Arkansas governor. Huckabee's fledging organization in Minnesota could use the help, and the state GOP doesn't need a leader who tries to wear two hats.