RICHMOND — Less than a month after a new chairman took over at the Virginia Republican Party, the top staff member is leaving, bringing more uncertainty to a party beset by infighting and financial trouble since then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat.
The party’s executive director, Shaun Kenney, said he plans to step down at the end of the month.
“Very few people ever get to say they held the reins in Virginia, especially now since our Commonwealth has become the center of the political universe,” Kenney said in a statement. “But now it’s time for me to move on to other opportunities.”
Kenney said he will help the chairman, John Whitbeck, hire his successor.
“Over the next two weeks, I’ll be winding down my responsibilities here at RPV and helping to organize a smooth transition to the next executive director,” he said.
Whitbeck, who ran for chairman of the state GOP on a promise to unite the warring factions of the party and make fundraising a priority, called Kenney “a tireless worker” who will “move on to even greater things.”
“The search for our new executive director is already underway, and I hope to have an announcement regarding that position in the near future,” Whitbeck said.
The staff shake-up comes as the party continues to try to cope with a schism between business-centric Republicans, including Cantor, and a tea-party influenced coalition of conservatives who currently run the party’s governing board. Cantor lost in last year’s primary in the 7th Congressional District to Dave Brat, who had tea party support.
The party was carrying $217,499 in debt and had just $252 cash on hand at the end of January, according to its latest federal filing.
The problems come at a crucial time for the state GOP as it tries to defend and expand its one-seat majority in the state Senate in this year’s elections. Virginia, a crucial swing state, also will be in the spotlight as contenders for the Republican presidential nomination travel the country ahead of the 2016 race.
Republicans have lost every statewide race in Virginia since 2009, although Ed Gillespie came close to defeating U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) last year. Former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) will speak at a fundraising dinner for the party this month.
Kenney was hired as executive director in April by Whitbeck’s predecessor, Pat Mullins, who recently retired.
Kenney was a controversial choice to run the day-to-day operations of the party because of some of the positions he took as a conservative blogger.
With him at the helm, the party recently angered Susan Stimpson, a Republican who is challenging Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), with a mailing that she said gave the incorrect impression that the party endorsed Howell. Whitbeck said the party apparatus is neutral in primaries.