Virginia's GOP Engrossed in Internal Battle Over Leader While Fight Against Democrats Looms

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009

RICHMOND, March 13 -- Virginia Republicans are engaged in an increasingly nasty battle over efforts to oust Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick as state party chairman, reopening long-standing divisions and underscoring the perils facing the GOP as it prepares for this year's governor's race.

The dispute has taken an unexpected turn into full public view as all five of the state's Republican members of Congress sent Frederick a letter Friday asking him to resign immediately instead of facing a no-confidence vote April 4.

"For the good of the Republican Party of Virginia, we write today asking that you step aside as chairman," the congressmen wrote. "Clearly it is the sentiment of the grassroots members of the party to move in another direction. . . . No one will benefit from a protracted battle over the leadership of" the Republican Party of Virginia.

But Frederick, who is accused of mismanagement and incompetence, has continued to fight for his job. "I don't run campaigns to lose," said Frederick, who represents Prince William County in the House of Delegates. "Everyone always underestimates me, but that is fine with me."

The dispute is fast becoming a generational and ideological clash that threatens to destabilize the party when it can least afford it. Republicans, both in Virginia and nationally, are struggling to find an identity and a unifying leader to counteract President Obama and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

At the same time that Frederick faces a vote of no confidence, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele is being criticized on a larger political stage as he tries to hold together the various factions jockeying for control of the GOP.

Some longtime party activists are despondent over the power struggle in Virginia, a state Steele recently described as central to Republican hopes for a comeback by the 2012 presidential election.

"It is a fight over who is going to be the captain of a ship that is already halfway to the bottom," said John Taylor, president of Tertium Quids, a conservative think tank.

A year ago, Frederick wrested control of the state party on a promise to bring in young, conservative leadership after a string of electoral losses. But last week, 80 percent of the Republican state central committee signed a letter calling for a special meeting to try to remove him April 4.

Party leaders say Frederick is combative and contributed to the party's historic losses last year, when Democrats picked up three congressional seats and Obama carried the state's 13 electoral votes. He made headlines by comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden. And complaints about his management skills have including allegations that he steered party business to a company he owns.

"It is very clear that most of the party has lost confidence in Jeff's leadership and we have exhausted every other remedy," said Mike Thomas, the GOP vice chairman.

Robert F. McDonnell, the GOP nominee for governor, joined his party's state Senate leaders to back Frederick's ouster. With their letter, Reps. Frank R. Wolf, Robert W. Goodlatte, Eric Cantor, J. Randy Forbes and Robert Wittman added their voices.

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