Our View: State GOP’s big challenge not money but messaging

April 29, 2019 GMT

Republican fund raising has faltered in the first part of 2019 and some are piling on to the new party leadership as the cause.

That leadership, of course, is Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City, who took over as party chair in January. Since that time, statewide GOP donations have slipped mightily.

The decline is indeed pretty newsworthy, especially when — gasp — the state Democrats have raised almost three times as much as the Republicans in the same period. That doesn’t happen often in Arizona.

Attacking Ward as the cause is unfair, though. First off, she didn’t elect herself to that job.

Second, the U.S. Senate race next year is looming as the largest item on the ballot next year and a lot of issues relating to that race are very unsettled, including court challenges to Martha McSally’s appointment fill the job.

It’s natural for donors to sit on the sidelines seeing how McSally’s role plays out.

While the declines can’t be blamed on Ward, there is a lot of food for thought in a party shift that bring her to the chairwoman position. Ward enjoys strong support from a party base that is on the right half of the party. The big question is whether the political right can sell itself enough to the masses to win a general election.

If anything, Arizona voters are shifting slightly to the left. That makes the GOP’s sales job tougher.

For about the last 175 years, politicians of every stripe have parroted Henry Clay’s famous quote, “I’d rather be right than president.” Arizona’s Barry Goldwater made that quote his own. Placing principles above politics is laudatory, but politics determines political races. It’s worth remembering that neither Clay nor Goldwater became president.

The question of whether and how Arizona Republicans can retain McSally’s seat in the Senate and do well in other races as well is likely a big donor question right now. Clearly, Republicans need broader appeal than what works well in very conservative areas such as Mohave County.

Politics is a retail business and retailing means nice, attractive packages. Tea Party Republicans may have powerful ideas for revolutionizing government but the message isn’t bringing enough undecided voters into the tent.

That’s the Republican challenge. It’s one Ward can help overcome. If nothing else, her biggest boost will likely come from the Democratic side, from the sector of that party that lives and breathes with populist promises that don’t pass even the basic smell test.

Ward and the right wing of the party have the Republican power right now. They need to translate power into effective, appealing messaging that resonates with the public and shows the party can win big in the 2020 elections.

— Today’s News-Herald