By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 10:33 PM
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).
Kane, a Montgomery resident, was widely seen as the more moderate choice for chairman and was viewed as the front-runner before voting by party activists at the statewide convention in Annapolis.
In a state in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2 to 1, Kane supporters argued that the best way to grow the Maryland GOP was to reach toward the political middle. That's a notion Mooney rejected, saying he had no desire to be "Democrat-lite."Family roots
Mooney traces his brand of politics largely to his parents. His father was "a feisty Irishman from New York."
Mooney said he remembers his father mocking _blankWalter Mondale's debate performance against Reagan in 1984 while the family was sitting around the dinner table. In the debate, Mondale acknowledged he might raise taxes.
"My father told us that nobody votes for people who say they're going to raise taxes," Mooney said.
Prior to marriage, Mooney's mother spent seven weeks in jail in her native Cuba for refusing to embrace communism, Mooney said.
"When she got out of jail, she fled here," he said. "I was raised to fight for freedom. My mother saw firsthand what happens when a big government comes in and takes all your rights away."
Mooney, who first won his state Senate seat at 27, said his opposition in recent years to authorizing speed cameras was rooted in that principle.Changes to be made
Mooney said his bid for state party chairman was inspired by his Nov. 2 loss and those of three other Republican candidates for the Senate, all of whom came within a percentage point or two of victory.
He said that he made no excuses about his loss to a Democrat but that the fate of his colleagues could have been different if they had received more financial assistance from the Maryland GOP.
"Where is the financial investment in those guys?" Mooney asked. "We should have won those races, and we should have won mine."
As chairman, Mooney is promising a far more robust fundraising operation, starting much earlier in the four-year cycle, than under his predecessors.Not going to 'go away'
Had Republicans won a few more Senate races, he argued, people might view the party's performance this year in Maryland rather differently.
In a year in which Republicans made significant gains elsewhere in the country, _blankO'Malley defeated Ehrlich by more than 14 percentage points, and Democrats gained a net of two seats in the state Senate. The majority party now holds 35 of 47 Senate seats.
Republicans picked up a modest six seats in the 141-seat House of Delegates, returning the size of their caucus to 43, where it was when Ehrlich was in office.
Mooney was more circumspect when asked about Republican chances of winning statewide offices in the near future. During the chairman's race, some Republican activists said the party should concede those seats to Democrats and focus for now on adding to the growing ranks of Republican officeholders on the local level.
"We're going to keep fighting for statewide offices," Mooney said. "We can't guarantee victory, but we can certainly guarantee competition and serious candidates. . . . The Democrats would love for us to give up and go away. . . . But I don't think most people want Maryland to be a one-party state."