After the sound drubbing Maryland Republicans received at the ballot box this month, a faction in the state GOP is calling for the resignation of state party Chairman Alex Mooney.
The effort follows a race in which the state party not only saw most of its candidates go down to lopsided defeats but one in which the ballot questions most Republicans opposed were all approved.
Whether Mooney can be forced out in the middle of his four-year term is doubtful, but GOP activists on both sides agree that unhappiness with his performance is likely to lead to a contentious Republican state convention Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Howard County.
The call was sounded the week after the election by four GOP activists who are among the contributors to the conservative blog Red Maryland.
Under the headline "Alex Mooney Must Resign," the authors declare that the conservative former state senator bears responsibility for the party's loss on the ballot questions because he instead concentrated on a doomed effort to defend the Republican congressional seat held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
Authors Mark Newgent, Brian Griffiths, Gregory M. Kline and James Braswell charged that Mooney had focused on his eventual hope of succeeding Bartlett rather than doing his job as party chairman.
"Chairman Mooney has done a poor job, a job that simply isn't his first political priority," they wrote. "We cannot avoid saying the emperor has no clothes because he is a conservative emperor."
But Mooney said he has no plans to resign and that he intends to serve out the remaining two years of his term. "I don't even take that seriously," he said. "Ever since I got elected chairman, there have been people criticizing."
While he didn't take a position on Mooney, former Del. Don Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican, said the Red Maryland blog and associated Internet radio network are increasingly influential in GOP circles.
"I've said some crazy things in my life but calling Red Maryland not serious isn't one of them," he said.
Post-election recriminations against the unpaid party chairman are a persistent tradition among Maryland Republicans, who often have little to cheer about on election nights in a heavily Democratic state. After the 2006 election resulted in the defeat of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., some party activists turned on then-chairman John Kane. GOP setbacks, including Ehrlich's repeat loss in 2010, led to fierce criticism of party chair Audrey Scott, who made way for Mooney's election late that year.
At the time, Mooney was on the rebound from his narrow defeat in his bid for a fourth term in the Senate, where he represented Frederick County. He brought to the job a reputation as a prodigious fundraiser, something the cash-strapped party desperately needed.
According to the Red Maryland manifesto, Mooney did a much better job raising money for his own prospective congressional campaign than he did for party coffers. Mooney eventually decided not to challenge Bartlett but has kept a federal campaign account open for the 2014 election.
The chairman said he will keep the account open but is not now planning to run in the Democratic-leaning 6th District.
During Mooney's watch, state Republicans enjoyed considerable success in gathering petitions to challenge laws passed by the Democratic-dominated General Assembly at the ballot box. A group called MDPetitions.com, backed by the state party, led the drive to put in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, same-sex marriage and Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting map up for a vote. But when it came time to campaign, the party had few resources. All three challenges failed.
Newgent, the lead writer of the Red Maryland article, said the state party and Mooney "dropped the ball" on the ballot questions. "The buck stops with him because of the election results," said Newgent.
But Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican who operates MDPetitions.com, said he sees no basis for blaming Mooney. "Alex was extremely helpful," Parrott said.
Richard Cross, a former Ehrlich speechwriter who now operates the political blog Cross Purposes, said he believes Mooney's Red Maryland critics make some valid points. In particular, he said, Mooney should have played "traffic cop" on the petition drives — discouraging those for causes the party lacked the resources to contest.
Yet Cross is skeptical about the calls for Mooney's ouster, wondering who would replace him. "Alex may benefit from the fact that it's a job nobody else wants," he said.
Mooney expressed confidence that the talk of ousting him will fall flat.
"I don't think they're gaining much support. I think it's a waste of time to be doing it. We should get back to fighting Democrats," he said.
Larry Hogan, president of the conservative advocacy group Change Maryland, said many Republicans were frustrated and "looking for someone to pin the blame on." But the former Ehrlich appointment secretary, who is considered a potential candidate for governor, said he doesn't see how Mooney's ouster would help.
"A circular firing squad, it might not be the best solution," he said.