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Pity the poor HCRP

My heart is breaking for them.

The Harris County Republican Party is in arrears amid a dour fundraising climate and an internecine struggle over its chairman, Jared Woodfill, whose leadership numerous local GOP stalwarts have begun to question publicly.

The troubles, which have led party officials to cut the salaries of two staffers and embrace a change of direction to a less costly, grassroots strategy, could not have come at a worse time. Fresh off a bruising 2008 election in which the longtime Republican hold on the county was broken, party leaders had hoped this year would lay the groundwork for a comeback.

“A lot of people are very concerned that the party is not in as strong a position as it needs to be going into 2010,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said last week. Emmett said he experienced “a frustrating week” at the end of June trying to locate party officials when the local GOP office was closed and no one was answering the phone. “It’s important that a lot of things get done now going into next year.”

According to about a dozen party officials, that may be an understatement. In 2008, despite raising and spending a record $2 million, Republicans received a drubbing that some found shocking given the dominance of the party, which had for years held every major countywide office.

I really have no idea what they spent that money on. I know they ran some TV ads promoting their incumbent judges, but not $2 million worth. The HCDP opened multiple district offices, hired staffers to run them, printed tons of yard signs and bumper stickers, and also did some advertising. Whatever the HCRP might have been doing with that money, it wasn’t apparent to me.

“The 2010 election is the most important election for Harris County Republicans ever,” said Gary Polland, a former three-term party chairman. “If we don’t win or do well, Republicans here are going to be stuck in Siberia for at least a decade.”

I think if the GOP doesn’t change its message to broaden its appeal beyond the angry-white-guy crowd, they’ll be stuck in Siberia for a long time regardless of how well they do next year.

But local Republicans say their party risks a challenging 2010 season, regardless of where Democrats stand, if party affairs are not completely in order.

“I am hugely concerned about the state of affairs in the party because of how close we are to the 2010 elections,” said Sheryl Berg, a member of the local party executive committee. “We need to improve our communications with voters, to rebuild and retool.”

Berg and others said the party must capitalize on the fervor of rank and file Republicans, many of whom have showed up in force at Tea Party demonstrations to protest the economic reforms of the Obama administration. And to win judicial races, Republicans will have to register a host of new voters, party officials said.

Woodfill said his new grass-roots strategy includes organizing several town hall meetings to tap into growing Republican discontent, holding a number of fundraisers and initiating a major voter registration effort.

It’s possible that the teabagger crowd contains some Republican-inclined folks who aren’t habitual voters, though I’d bet that’s mostly not the case. Turning some of them into volunteers would be useful. As far as registering new voters goes, though, where are they going to find them? The Republican base is shrinking in Harris County. For a variety of reasons, it’s possible the local GOP can do better in 2010 than it did last year, but they’re on an unsustainable course. I don’t see any evidence that they recognize this problem, much less that they’re taking steps to deal with it. I’d wish them luck in figuring it out, but I don’t mean it and they don’t deserve it.

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