This story was corrected on March 21, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
The unexpected move by former Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex X. Mooney from Frederick County to West Virginia reportedly to run for a congressional seat is a sign of the difficulties the troubled GOP faces in retaking Maryland’s 6th District, according to some party activists.
“I have to admit I was surprised when I heard it,” said Scott Gottlieb, chairman of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee. “Alex has given a lot to the state, he’s given a lot to the party, and he had to decide what was best for his family and himself, and this is what he decided.”
But the Republicans won’t have a shortage of candidates for the 6th Congressional District, Gottlieb said.
“The question is how viable of a candidate they’re going to be in the gerrymandered districts,” he said. “Let’s face it, the Democrats are in control of the map right now and they gerrymandered the 6th.”
After the 2010 census, the Maryland General Assembly redrew the congressional district boundaries, including more of the Democratic stronghold of Montgomery County in the 6th District, which now stretches from Garrett County in far Western Maryland to the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
The redrawn boundaries flipped it from a safe Republican seat to a Democratic majority. Ten-term incumbent Roscoe Bartlett, who had won re-election in 2010, lost last year, with Democratic challenger Potomac businessman, John Delaney, taking 59 percent of the vote.
For some, Mooney’s departure was disconcerting.
“Even though we weren’t big supporters, any time a state party chairman abandons the state — if it’s that easy for him to pick up and leave after two years as state party chairman and 12 years as state senator — that is disheartening,” said Brian Griffiths, chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans and co-founder of the Red Maryland blog that broke the news of Mooney’s move earlier this month.
“You want to think [the party leaders] are putting as much heart and effort into it as you do, but clearly this shows they’re not,” he said.
Griffiths said he got the scoop on Mooney’s move from a friend with the West Virginia Republican Party “who thinks it’s hilarious because West Virginia is very different.”
“There’s a real sense of pride of being a West Virginian. There’s a level of parochialism that isn’t going to just let someone move in and run for Congress,” he said.
One of the reasons the Republican-blog had called on Mooney — a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Senate from District 3 — to resign last November as GOP chairman was because he was focused on raising money for his own potential congressional bid instead of putting all of his efforts into the state party, Griffiths said.
“We certainly didn’t expect him to abandon his home state, though,” Griffiths said. “Frankly, I think it is blind ambition. He always saw himself as the natural successor to congressman Bartlett.”
When redistricting changed the nature of Bartlett’s old district, instead of staying to fight the Democrats, Mooney looked for an easier place to run, he said.
“West Virginia will be the third state he’s run for office in,” Griffiths said.
Mooney, who did not return The Gazette’s call for comment, told Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call that he was renting a home in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., but had not made a decision whether to run in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R), who currently holds the seat, has announced that she plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2014. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) has announced he would retire at the end of his term and not seek re-election.
A Delaney spokesman declined to comment on Mooney’s move.
Griffiths pointed out that Mooney ran as a college student for the House of Representatives in New Hampshire before running for office in Maryland.
During his tenure at the Maryland State House, Mooney was known for taking conservative positions and then sending out national fundraising appeals to conservatives.
However, he was defeated in 2010 by Ronald N. Young (D), who had served as Frederick mayor from 1974 to 1990.
Mooney was then elected chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, and his fundraising prowess was seen as one of the benefits to leading the financially-troubled party.
In 2011, Mooney, who had served for years as Bartlett’s legislative aide, began considering a bid to run for the 6th District seat.
The move angered many Republican activists, Griffiths said.
In a letter in February announcing his resignation as party chairman on March 1, Mooney said he was leaving the state party in strong financial health.
But critics point out that the party provided little support to conservative petition-drive efforts that successfully put challenges to gay marriage, the state’s DREAM Act and congressional redistricting on the ballot — all of which lost in the November general election.
In addition, the party saw losses in Maryland for president, U.S. Senate, seven of the eight House races, including Bartlett’s loss to Delaney, and the three ballot referendum questions supported by Republicans.
Being chairman in the Maryland Republican Party in recent years has been by “people driven by their own ambition, or people who wanted to be the tallest midget in the room and are fine with us being the minority party in Maryland,” Griffiths said.
The state party election for chairman on April 20 to fill Mooney’s vacancy will pit the new activists against the party establishment again, Griffiths said.
Correction: The story incorrectly reported when Ronald N. Young (D) served as mayor of Frederick. When Young defeated Mooney for a state Senate seat in 2010, Young was a former mayor, having served in that post from 1974 to 1990. The story also misspelled the name of Brian Griffiths, the co-founder of Red Maryland.