Disloyalty Charges Threaten N.H. GOP Chair

Presidential candidates aren't the only Republicans jockeying for position in the state that holds the first presidential primary. Jack Kimball, New Hampshire's GOP chairman, is fighting to remain in office. The Tea Party-backed newcomer was elected to lead state Republicans just seven months ago. He now faces removal amid charges of incompetence and disloyalty. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Presidential candidates aren't the only Republicans who are contending for position in New Hampshire these days. Of course, that state holds the first presidential primary in just a few months. And New Hampshire's Republican chairman Jack Kimball is fighting to remain in office. Mr. Kimball, a Tea Party-supported newcomer, was elected to lead state Republicans earlier this year. He now faces almost certain removal, amid charges of incompetence and even disloyalty. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

JOSH ROGERS: Back in January, when Jack Kimball was elected to lead New Hampshire Republicans, the 63-year-old political novice seemed to embody the hope that Tea Party passion might inspire a conservative renaissance within the GOP. Kimball certainly sounded the part.

JACK KIMBALL: We are in a war, and we are going to win it. We are going to go after the Democrats the entire time and put all of us into office this time around.

ROGERS: But now, just seven months later, Jack Kimball's war is for his own political survival.

KIMBALL: If I am voted out, it is going to cause a fissure in this party that is going to open a wound that is not going to heal real soon. This is the worst possible thing to happen at the worst possible time.

ROGERS: Kimball's been facing a coup within his party for weeks. He's been criticized for lackluster fundraising, and the party's lost two special elections. Kimball was even photographed signing a petition urging recognition of the Libertarian Party - a clear violation of GOP bylaws. This week, New Hampshire's Republican members of Congress and statehouse leaders asked for Kimball's resignation. The group also released a letter signed by enough party officials to force Kimball out by vote on September 1st. Steve Duprey is a former state party chairman and current member of the republican national committee. He says the bottom line is that Jack Kimball simply hasn't delivered.

STEVE DUPREY: This isn't about ideology or people not liking Jack. Frankly, I found it refreshing to have someone with Jack's newness to it. It's about results and competence.

ROGERS: But Kimball loyalists say he's being unfairly drummed out as chairman and mainly because he won election without the backing of longtime party insiders. Jerry DeLemus, who runs a Tea Party-affiliated political action committee, says establishment republicans are sending a clear signal.

JERRY DELEMUS: We don't want you, Tea Party; we don't want you, liberty groups, get out. And anybody who thinks we don't have the power to do that, look what we are doing to Jack Kimball. I think that's the message.

ROGERS: And Kimball's backers insist that message isn't simply coming from New Hampshire. They allege national GOP groups have promised to contribute to state Republicans only if Kimball is shown the door. National party officials deny that. But privately, well-connected local Republicans say they expect more cash from national donors if Kimball goes. Presidential election years can be boom times in the state that holds the first primary. It remains to be seen what the tale of Jack Kimball means. Rank and file Republicans say they don't see it affecting the New Hampshire primary. But Kimball's trajectory is being watched closely by activists and presidential campaigns alike. Party insiders say they expect the attention to wane with Kimball's likely removal on Thursday. Kimball says he won't step down in the meantime.

KIMBALL: I will go to that meeting and they will look me in the eye, and they will vote.

ROGERS: And if the Chairman Kimball's defiant attitude is anything to go by, his hard feelings and those of his Tea Party supporters may long remain. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

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