That’s what some D.C. Republican party honchos are wondering as GOP voters go to the polls tomorrow to elect two members of the Republican National Committee.
Gehrke, 30, is running against Robert Kabel, the longtime chair of the D.C. Republican Committee, for the male RNC seat. Kabel partisans are questioning Gehrke’s inexperience and motives, noting his association with a campaign consulting outfit that has come under fire for its spending practices.
The firm, Base Connect, has been criticized in articles in Salon, the Boston Globe and the Washington Times for practices that include raising money via direct mail for conservative candidates — including former presidential candidate Herman Cain and Nevada Senate challenger Sharron Angle — and then taking a big cut of the proceeds.
Salon described the group thusly:
For the past several election cycles, the firm’s M.O. has gone like this: find a longshot conservative candidate running against a well-established Democratic incumbent, then launch a national fundraising campaign by sending direct mail to a list of true-believing but small-time conservative donors around the country.
The catch is that as much 75 or 80 or even 95 percent of the money raised is paid back to Base Connect and its “partner” companies (which are based in the same suite in the same building just off K Street in Washington).
Kabel backers are most aggrieved, however, that Gehrke has a thin record of local Republican activism. He registered to vote in October 2007, and city records show that he has voted once in that time, in the 2008 city primary, where the main draw was an at-large primary battle between Carol Schwartz and Patrick Mara.
“In many respects, he has zero history with the party,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans who is also active in the local party. “There is no history as far as helping build or construct the state Republican party as Bob has done.”
He added, “It takes a certain level of temerity for someone who hasn’t voted in an election since 2008 to think that he can run for national committeeman.”
Ordinarily, a challenger with no name recognition and no record wouldn’t generate much concern for a well-financed, well-known candidate. But in a party committee race, no name recognition and no money are par for the course, and Gehrke has raised enough money — mostly from his business associates, campaign finance records show — to send out several mailers to frequent GOP voters.
Gehrke said in an e-mail interview that he’s running because he sees a “tremendous opportunity for growth” in the local party “if we’re willing to change.” He notes dwindling Republican voter registration and the lack of GOP elected officials since Schwartz’s 2008 primary loss.
As for his lack of involvement, he says: “I wrote the DC GOP a check for (I think) $250 a couple years back, and asked how I could get more involved. I never received a call back again. After that, I decided to run when I found out there was an open spot because it’s a great place to make an impact.”
But his critics wonder about his history with Base Connect and whether he isn’t seeking an RNC seat to give himself a chance to rub shoulders with potential clients. “That has to give anyone pause,” said Robert Turner, president of the local Log Cabin Republicans and a Kabel backer.
Gehrke wrote that he’s no longer in the direct mail fundraising business, “but I’m proud of the work I did, raising literally tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates such as Allen West,” the Florida congressman.
In the race for the female RNC seat, there’s another battle taking place that has a bit of an insider-outsider flavor. Teri Galvez, a longtime D.C. Republican activist, is being challenged by Jill Homan, a former aide to ex-Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich. Homan, however, is no stranger to the D.C. GOP. She has campaigned aggressively in recent months, picking up the support of many party regulars.