In the weeks since he lost his US Senate seat and began considering a run for another, Scott Brown has been embroiled in a fight for a far less coveted office: chairmanship of the state Republican Party.
For the past month, Brown has been trying to install his campaign’s deputy finance director as leader of the party that could propel him to another statewide special election win.
But his candidate, Kirsten Hughes, has yet to muster the support she would need to be elected Jan. 31. Instead, many activists and several notable Republican legislators have thrown their weight behind Rick Green, a Pepperell businessman and fiscal conservative elected to the state committee last year.
The monthlong uncertainty over the outcome has surprised some in Republican circles. They regarded Brown as titular head of the party, a figure who could galvanize support from all corners of the GOP.
A chairman loyal to Brown could help him in his next run for office and would control the money he has helped raise for the party. The state GOP ended November with $837,051 left in its federal account, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The chairman of the party, who leads recruiting, fund-
raising and party-building efforts, is elected by members of the Republican State Committee, 80 activists from all corners of the state. By Friday, Green claimed endorsements from 27 committee members, according to his website. Hughes had just 21 votes earlier in the week, but leapt to 25 Friday, her campaign manager said.
Both sides professed confidence in a win.
Green, who runs an online auto parts business, is a founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which advocates conservative fiscal principles. His candidacy has tapped a long-simmering resentment among Republican activists who feel that their party’s campaign efforts have too long been dictated by the reigning politician of the moment, while neglecting the grass-roots advocacy needed to rebuild the Republicans’ dwindling strength.
“That is a perception that’s, I think, widely held among Republican activists,” said state Representative Daniel B. Winslow, a Norfolk Republican. “I personally am a big believer in trickle-up politics. I think we need to have grass roots, a farm team, candidates who earn their way into public office.”
Winslow, the chief counsel for Brown’s first US Senate campaign but not his second, was one of the moderate Republican legislators who has thrown his support to Green instead of Brown’s designee.
Winslow said his support is not a reflection on Brown, who he hopes will win another special election to the US Senate if John F. Kerry wins confirmation as secretary of state and steps down. Instead, Winslow said, he admires both candidates and thinks the debate is healthy.
“I don’t have a vote in this election, but I do have a stake in this election,” Winslow said. “As a person who hopes to be on the ballot in 2014, in some way, I want to see the party positioned in 2014 so the brand is not a liability and the organization is a strength.”
Brown’s campaign spokesman, Colin Reed, did not return phone calls for comment.
Green’s personal outreach to individual legislators and state committee members persuaded many, including State Representative Donald A. Humason, to cast early endorsements. The Westfield Republican said he respects Scott Brown’s loyalty to his own candidate, but added, “it’s not simply Scott Brown’s party. It’s a party that should belong to every registered Republican in Massachusetts.”
House minority leader Bradley H. Jones Jr., who supports Hughes, said that the party’s current focus should be on the campaign at hand. “The US Senate race is the bottom of the ticket, the top of the ticket, and the middle of the ticket,” he said. “It’s the whole thing. It’s not about competing for resources.”
Republican losses up and down the ballot in November were devastating to many Massachusetts Republicans, and some activists took particular offense to Brown’s focus on his independence and bipartistanship, even using a slogan, “people over party.”
Republican analyst Todd Domke said that rallying cry hardly fits the profile of a politician who wants to control a partisan organization. “If he owns the party, then when he campaigns on the basis of being independent and bipartisan, it undercuts his credibility,” said Domke. “It’ll be a club that the Democrats use against him.”
But Representative Ryan Fattman, a Sutton Republican running Green’s campaign for chairman, argued against the idea that a loss for Kirsten Hughes would make Brown look vulnerable to Democrats.
“At the end of the day, there’s no question every single person is united behind Scott Brown, should he choose to run for the US Senate again, and I hope he does,” Fattman said. “But I think Rick [Green] is the person who can unite the party, and he’s proving it.“