Many Maryland Republicans touted their party’s moderate nature in the past, but some GOP leaders hope the election of 37-year-old Nicolee Ambrose over 76-year-old Audrey Scott at the state party convention last weekend signals a more aggressive push toward conservative candidates and issues.
Ambrose, a Republican activist who campaigned hard across the state, won a contentious race to become national committeewoman, one of three top spots in the state party. She defeated Scott, a longtime party loyalist who had served in the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and as the state party chairwoman.
Ambrose received 286 votes to Scott’s 247 votes in the race decided by central committee members across the state.
The national committeewoman for the state party attends Republican National Committee meetings and casts a vote for the party’s national chairman.
Ambrose intends to bring the same energy she displayed in her campaign to the party.
“We have a two-fold plan of attack for 2012,” she said. “The first is to continue with some innovative fundraisers, similar to the successful event featuring Congressman Allen West … where we attract new donors to the Maryland GOP with great events and fantastic speakers.”
West, a Republican representative from Florida, recently drew national attention when he said about 80 members of the Democratic Party were communists, a remark that critics said harkened back to the McCarthy period of the 1950s. Ambrose had featured a photo of herself with West in her bid for election.
Ambrose also said the party will run a strong ground game for its slate of candidates.
“We will not cede a single race, and we need to fight to make Maryland a true two-party state,” said Ambrose, who described herself as “conservative, a Ronald Reagan Republican.”
On the Maryland political scene, she focuses more on fiscal conservative issues, but believes Democrats have over-reached on social issues such as passing same-sex marriage.
Del. Michael J. Hough (R-Dist. 3B) of Brunswick, state party chairman of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, said he thought Ambrose would bring a great deal of energy in reviving the party and help make it more conservative. Many in the grassroots had not liked Republicans compromising on issues.
But the race for the position between Ambrose and Scott was close and heated, with supporters of both accusing the other of smears.
During a nominating speech for Scott at the convention, one of her supporting delegates told the crowd, “You don’t send a girl to do a woman’s job.” His remarks drew a strong chorus of boos.
Ambrose said the man later apologized.
Several factors came into play in the race, normally a quiet affair at the state convention, Republican officials said. Among them were Scott’s support of a rule that favored Ehrlich as opposed to his GOP primary opponent, Brian Murphy, who drew considerable tea party backing, in the past general election.
Scott also supported a primary challenger to longtime U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in his 6th Congressional District primary, and she joined with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups in supporting a state gas tax increase to pay for infrastructure needs — as long as the funds would pay only for transportation projects, several GOP officials said.
“What we see in [Ambrose’s] election over a former state party chairwoman is a Republican Party moving even further, and further, and further to the right,” said Matthew Verghese, political/communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party.
“When you compare Bob Ehrlich to national Republicans I’ll concede he’s more moderate. But they’ve found being moderate isn’t good enough,” Verghese said.
In the past, Maryland Republicans would cooperate with Democrats to find bipartisan solutions, he said.
Democrats had worked with Scott to encourage people to vote early in the 2010 race, a sign she was able to reach across party lines even though they disagreed on the issues, Verghese said
“What you saw [at the state convention] was a backlash against Bob Ehrlich and any kind of moderation in the Republican Party,” Verghese said.
Ambrose’s election sends a message that the Maryland GOP is ready to change, said former Montgomery County GOP Chairman James F. Shalleck, who supported Ambrose’s bid.
“I hope this is not the last position she holds,” he said of Ambrose. “She’s one of our rising stars.”
Ann Corcoran, a Hagerstown blogger who founded the Potomac Tea Party Report, wrote, “It will be interesting to see if the ‘old guard’ will allow the party to move forward with some new blood or do what they did to one former chairman with new ideas [Jim Pelura] and undercut her at every turn.”