Montgomery County's tiny and ideologically fractured Republican Party--trounced in last fall's elections and drained of money and precinct workers--gathered Friday night for what was supposed to be a festive occasion, the party's 1983 Lincoln Day Dinner. But after the backslapping and the dinner of chicken Ve ronique and rice pilaf at the Gaithersburg Marriott, the Montgomery Republicans were treated to some rather harsh realities from county chairman Paul Clark, who delivered an unusual State of the Party address.
What he told the Republicans was that theirs is now a party in deep trouble, essentially without funds, without much base or precinct organization, top-heavy with philosophers while lacking workers, and without a definable image.
"Our image in this county," Clark said, "--it ain't good and it ain't bad. There isn't any. Nobody knows who we are."
But Clark and Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf nonetheless promised to work to rebuild the ragtag party by 1986.
At an informal meeting with local reporters before the dinner, Fahrenkopf announced an ambitious new national strategy to "work directly with key county organizations in each state."
The plan calls for concentrating efforts in five to 10 key counties in each state, then pouring in funds and expertise to build parties at the grassroots level. Montgomery has already been selected as one of Maryland's target counties.
Fahrenkopf said he sees this strategy as a key to winning more statewide races because elections in most states can be won in just a handful of counties. "That includes looking at counties where we can hold our losses down to, say, 2,000 votes from 5,000."
Fahrenkopf answered quickly and pointedly when asked about the GOP's dismal performance in Montgomery last fall. The reason for "the losses that were suffered across the country, including congressional losses," he said, "was the state of the economy. The economy was pretty tough. When those votes were cast things were looking pretty dismal."
Clark had another assessment, which was more of an indictment of the party he heads. He blamed the loss on four factors: lack of money for GOP candidates, a skeleton precinct organization, the slow start-up of their campaigns and the party's lack of an image in Montgomery.
He said the GOP fielded an attractive slate of candidates, but "we didn't win anything! They got started about six months before the election, plus they raised about a third or a quarter of what their Democratic counterparts raised."
The party has formed a 15-member "New Directions" task force, headed by Joseph McGrath, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive, to figure out how to set things right for 1986. Also, a 10-member working finance committee has been formed to deal with the money shortage.