Va. GOP Ousts Chairman Who Ignored Call to Resign

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009

RICHMOND, April 4 -- Virginia Republicans ousted embattled party chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick on Saturday at a tense meeting that left the party bitterly divided as it heads into a crucial campaign season.

Frederick's dismissal came after he repeatedly resisted public requests for his resignation from almost every top-ranking Republican officeholder in Virginia. They accused him of incompetence and mismanagement.

But at the heart of the dispute is a struggle that is tormenting Republicans both in the state and nationally: whether to rigidly pursue an agenda dominated by conservative social issues or reach out to more moderate voters with a pledge to focus chiefly on economic concerns.

"It's about the party moving forward," said Lee Talley, a Republican activist from Portsmouth. "We're doing what we have to do. It's a shame it came to this, but we . . . want to build the party."

For months, the conflict has split the party and overshadowed Republican efforts to win the governor's mansion in a campaign that is viewed by many to be a harbinger for federal midterm elections in 2010. Some of Frederick's supporters said his ouster could sap the enthusiasm of rank-and-file activists come November.

"There's going to be a backlash," predicted Jo-Ann Chase, a conservative Republican from Loudoun County who backed Frederick. "You better believe it.''

Top Republicans have started investing heavily in the party's nominee for Virginia governor, former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, who is seeking to reverse the political tide in a state that has been trending from red to blue. Party leaders including Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have parachuted into the presidential swing state on McDonnell's behalf.

Republicans have been struggling to unify behind a leader who can counter President Obama and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Even as state officials were voicing doubts about Frederick, some Republicans in Washington were grumbling about Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. A series of misstatements have hampered Steele's efforts to hold together party factions.

A clear sign of the Virginia party's identity crisis: It has swapped chairmen six times in as many years.

After six hours of debate behind closed doors, the party's governing board, the State Central Committee, voted 57 to 18 to remove Frederick, 33, a conservative delegate from Prince William County.

"I ran for chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia with the hope of changing our party so we could once again be a major party in Virginia [and] so we could achieve real progress for our state and our families,'' Frederick said after the vote. "Unfortunately, the headwinds to change course were just too great. . . . Too many are still invested in doing things the old top-down way. I'm sad for our party and for our grass roots."

First Vice Chairman Mike Thomas, a leader in the movement to remove Frederick, took over as interim party chairman, a post he has held three times since 2003. The committee will select a chairman May 2.

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