By VIC SPROUSE
CHARLESTON — I ran into Shelley Moore Capito at Kroger and it made me finally sit down and write this article. I’ve been meaning to write it since the end of the election.
The topic? What do the Republicans need to do to win in 2008 and beyond?
The election victories of 2000, 2002 and 2004 made great strides for the Republicans. The State Party finally got off its feet after a few dismal chairmanships in the early 1990s and actually began getting its act together.
The party started coming together in 1999 with David Tyson, but he was hamstrung by many factors outside of his control. But, I believe David started the party in the right direction.
After David and the election of Bush, the national Republicans took a major role and in came Kris Warner and Gary Abernathy and the Republicans began raising money. More importantly, we began becoming the party of ideas.
Recruitment of good candidates, fundraising at a record pace, and an overall good team of state Republicans employees began whipping the party into shape. Couple that with a strong message for the citizens of our state and Republicans began winning elections and putting the Democrats on their heels.
Of course, we had Shelley winning in 2000 along with Bush’s upset in West Virginia. This put West Virginia on the map and we benefited from unprecedented national support. This also occurred in 2002 and 2004.
In 2002, national Republicans were worried about Shelley and poured time and effort into West Virginia helping the party and the candidates down the line.
In 2004 with Bush at the top of the ticket and Shelley running strong, we continued our surge, picking up additional legislative seats.
But, as we were heading into 2006, none of those factors were present.
All of the “easy” legislative victories were already won, and we were now in battles with tough incumbents and also had to defend more vulnerable seats.
Warner and Abernathy were gone, the ending of a bitter time that began with Monte Warner’s campaign for Governor. No national money came to West Virginia in 2006. The War in Iraq and scandals in Congress caused a national backlash against Republicans and we simply got our hats handed to us by a better organized, well funded, angry and focused Democratic party.
Republicans had lost the edge in ideas and money, a deadly combination.
Let’s face it, right now, Gov. Joe Manchin is better than we are. The Democrats outflanked the Republicans on the issues and became the party with the agenda, albeit a Republican, tax-cutting agenda. Their top leaders poured hundreds of thousands from their own campaigns into the party to support organization efforts.
Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Don Blankenship’s money and efforts slowed the bleeding and it’s hard to think how bad the beatdown would have been without his funding and organized effort.
While Blankenship has been panned by many Republicans, he was simply filling a role the Party was not. The party was simply not able to provide funding or any semblence of organization to our candidates in the way they did in 2002 and 2004. The infrastructure and funding weren’t there.
Want to hear a scary thought? Sprouse PAC provided more direct funding than any other direct Republican source this year. And it was simply focused on my Senate compatriots. And, it raised ONLY $24,000. While I thought it was an amazing number to raise from a single Senate PAC, it was still ONLY $24,000. Surely not enough to help Republicans in a way an organized, successful Republican party could.
As an engineer, I consider myself a linear thinker. Identify the problem. Find the solution. And, find the solution in the shortest possible path from A to B.
The problem is when the issue is multifaceted, the solutions aren’t simple. Well, wait, the solutions aren’t necessarily complex, getting them implemented is what is difficult.
Problem #1 — A non-operational state party
Solution #1 — Rebuilding the state party. Simple solution. But, complex implementation when you are talking about trying to retire a debt, obtain operational money, and build a strong party infrastructure, a problem that was around even in the good years of 1999-2004. It’s way too much to lay on the shoulders of Doug McKinney alone.
Problem #2 — Successful Republican candidates who have won without the state party and therefore almost look to the Democrats as their salvation and the only way they can get elected.
Solution #2 — As a former Minority Leader, I can’t tell you the frustration with the old guard of elected officials who look at the way they won without formal ‘Republican’ assistance and feel the only way to get ahead is to take a coddling approach to the Democrats. The only way to overcome this is by electing people who have won WITH Republican assistance.
Problem #3 — Battling a popular head of the other party.
Solution #3 — We can match Manchin’s popularity with our own high-profile, popular Congresswomen Capito.
Listen, we could list out problem after problem and try to find solution after solution.
But, I can’t think of a bigger problem than the lack of a singular, popular leader willing to take the party by the horns, right it, and move it forward in the right direction.
We have multiple, great leaders.
Brent Benjamin. Brent is a good leader and strategist, but as a Supreme Court justice his open political work is limited.
Betty Ireland. Betty is fantastic and a great speaker, but she is fairly new on the scene. Maybe after a re-election victory, she commands the respect to take the party by the horns and lead it as it’s undisputed leader. But, that’s part of the problem, she has to seek and win a tough reelection battle. It’s hard to take the lead of a party when you’re up to your ears in your own reelection.
Delegates and Senators. There are a number of strong leaders in the Legislature. But, even the Minority Leaders in the House and Senate are limited in the across the board leadership ability needed to take the party in a certain direction. Charlie Trump and I, who worked as well together as any Minority Leaders could, could barely keep our own caucuses on a certain path, let alone an entire State Party.
Doug McKinney. Doug is a strong-willed leader, but I’m sure as he has learned in his short time as party leader, he is reliant on the elected leaders in many ways.
That leaves one person. Shelley.
As difficult as it is and as much as I’m sure she has no desire to do it, the Republican party of our state needs Shelley to take a strong leadership role, grab the party by the horns, and lead it in a direction that helps it long term.
Kris Warner took this role early on in his chairmanship. You see where that left him. But, it’s difficult for a non-elected official to serve in this role.
The Republicans truly have only one, singular leader who is capable of stepping in, providing funding from her campaign, and raising money to turn around the current state party. We have only one elected official who simply can’t be defeated. If 2006 showed what the Democrats could do when the flexed their muscle, it also showed that Shelley Moore Capito can’t be defeated.
Shelley has the ability to contribute significantly from her campaign to eliminate the debt, select the leadership she chooses to run the state party and begin building the party in her image. One that achieves success and one that builds a legacy for decades to come. One that also helps her win statewide election if she chooses to seek that route.
She certainly doesn’t have to. Shelley could continue on exactly as she is, unilaterally popular but without the infrastructure behind her to defeat a Joe Manchin or an Alan Mollohan in a statewide, all-out, free-for-all for the U.S. Senate.
But, if Shelley steps in now, and the Republican party rights itself and builds an infrastructure that can at least compete with the Democrats, the long term benefits not only legislative candidates, but Shelley as well. And, little political capital needs to be expended on her part.
I’m not saying Shelley must do it. I’m not even saying she should do it. What I am saying is we have a singular, popular leader to rival any Democrat out there. That leader has the ability to command respect and admiration across the entire state Republican party. And, right now, the Republican party is in great need of a leader to step in and reshape it. Someone people can follow. Someone people will not question when tough decisions must be made.
The Republicans need Shelley.
Senator Vic Sprouse is the Minority Leader of the West Virginia Senate. He has served in the Legislature since 1995 and resides in Charleston. He graduted from Penn State University with a Chemical Engineering degree and currently owns and operates several fitness centers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.