Mooney's GOP goals eclipsed by speculation

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011

Alex X. Mooney won an upset victory in last month's contest to become chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, promising to build a far more aggressive fundraising operation to help GOP candidates in the heavily Democratic state.

But in the weeks since the staunchly conservative Mooney was embraced by party activists, his vision to reinvigorate the Maryland GOP largely has been eclipsed by something else: talk about his future.

Mooney was narrowly defeated in November in his bid for a fourth term as a state senator from Frederick County. Some pundits and party insiders are now suggesting his primary motive for seeking the chairmanship was to rekindle his own political plan: running for Congress after long-serving Rep. Roscoe G. Bart-lett (R-Md.) - at 84, the second-oldest member of the House - retires.

"It's personal ambition," said Mooney's hometown paper, the Frederick News-Post, in an editorial that suggested he might drive the party too far to the right in a bid to stay politically viable in his conservative congressional district in coming years.

Mooney, who did not vote for a single tax increase and railed against abortion during his legislative tenure, did not rule out a future run for Congress in a wide-ranging interview but brushed off his critics in jovial fashion.

"As long as you do a good job in the job you're doing, it's a good thing," said Mooney, 39, whose early acts as chairman included transporting a nearly life-size statue of a political hero, President Ronald Reagan, from his state Senate office to GOP headquarters in Annapolis. "I don't know what the future holds for me."

Mooney said his plans for his new job included more active use of social networking sites to promote the party's message and initiatives. He also is considering moving party headquarters to a less expensive location, saying that dollars going to pay rent would have been better spent promoting GOP candidates.

Steering clear of middle

A colleague who knows Mooney well, Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick), said he considered Mooney's successful bid for party chairman to be "brilliant, actually."

"He's keeping his name out there, and he really wants to be a congressman," Brinkley said. "Of course, it remains to be seen if it works."

Mooney certainly would not be the only state party chairman from Maryland to parlay the position into something more visible. Michael S. Steele served as head of the state GOP before he was picked in 2002 as the running mate of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich J. (R) - a position he rode to national prominence, eventually landing as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

And on the Democratic side, the resume of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett includes a stint as chairman of that state party.

Last month, Mooney defeated four other candidates seeking the state GOP chairmanship, including Mary D. Kane, Ehrlich's running mate in this year's unsuccessful rematch against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

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