Upbeat party members gathered Saturday in the state capital for their fall convention. Some said upsets such as the city mayor's race could be repeated if the party is strategic and can devise ways to reach communities whose voters usually cast ballots for Democrats.
"We have to be aggressive, and we may have to do some things that we're not comfortable with as a party to win," Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley of Frederick County told the crowd of 250. "We do have a bright future, and we may have to employ some strategies that we haven't looked at before."
The state party's new focus on expanding outreach to ethnic minorities, employing new technology to raise cash and attempting to sway more moderate voters comes as the Republican National Committee also refocuses its approach to minority communities after big losses among those voters in 2012.
In Maryland, Republican party leaders who face fundraising and voter registration disadvantages are looking at the unexpected win of political newcomer Mike Pantelides in Annapolis as a potential road map. Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Diana Waterman mentioned the race no fewer than five times Saturday. "We can have huge success in this state," she said.
"He would not have won without Democrats voting for him," Waterman said. "We did that in Annapolis. We can do that in other places. Don't discount them just because they have the 'D' after their name."
Republican Mayor-elect Pantelides, 30, managed a 59-vote victory against a Democratic incumbent in Maryland's capital city earlier this month. Pantelides, who had never run for office before, told the convention that he visited at least eight black churches, had a heavy social media presence, produced campaign literature in Spanish and knocked on doors in public housing.
"I hope my election laid the groundwork for you." Pantelides said. "You need any advice, let me know."
Maryland National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose gave a presentation calling the Annapolis election the "cherry on top" of the party's grassroots efforts. "We are still on cloud nine," she said.
The party's new executive director, Joe Cluster, gave each county delegation races to target in the 2014 election, though he pointedly excluded Carroll and Garrett counties, where Republicans dominate elected offices.
"We can win in every county," Cluster said. "We just need to pick our battles and be really, really smart about it."
Two Republican National Committee field operatives gave a briefing on the party's plans to expand field offices focused on black Americans from eight states to 18 next year. Republicans will be at black churches, historically black colleges and universities and in communities, they said.
"We're going to be everywhere and anywhere we can," said Kristal Q. Hartsfield, the RNC's national field director for African-American initiatives.
"We know we did horribly in 2012, and we're ready to move forward," said Stephen Fong, the RNC's field director for Asian-American initiatives.
Waterman, who was elected the state party leader earlier this year, said that in addition to courting Democrats and minorities, Republicans need to refocus efforts from fighting early voting to increasing Republican turnout. "We have to embrace it, we have to make it our own."
The party is also promoting a new micro-fundrasing tool that allows donors to give as little as $8.25 a month, automatically debited from their checking accounts. The Maryland GOP has struggled with debt. A treasurer's report showed the party spent $89,000 more than it raised in the first nine months of the year.
"We expected to be in a deficit position; we didn't expect it to be that much," treasurer R. Christopher Rosenthal said.
Democrats enjoy a 2-1 voter registration advantage in Maryland, and some Republicans have pushed to open their primary contests to independent voters. Cluster said the executive committee voted Friday to keep studying the idea, effectively tabling the issue for the 2014 election cycle.
On Saturday, convention delegates voted against a resolution that would have called on public officials to resign if convicted of crimes and incarcerated while in office. State Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican, was sentenced last month to 60 days in jail to be served on weekends. The jail term is for two incidents — operating a boat under the influence in a crash in August 2012 and driving a car while impaired in August of this year.