Joel Mowbray reports: Keen ideas for party-building

Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) reports:

In an election cycle that likely will leave the GOP in an even worse position than 2006, many party faithful will be using November and beyond to figure out how to recapture Republican dominance—or at least relevance.

From Washington westward, the Republican Party is battered—and its prognosis might actually be dimmer should McCain win, as a President Obama would the at least provide a powerful foil.

While grassroots and movement conservatives correctly point to the GOP Congress scuttling principle in favor of expediency, finding philosophical backbone will not alone be enough to resuscitate the party.

Even with advances of modern technology, what cannot be overlooked are the virtues of old-fashioned electioneering. And that is where the backbone of the party matters most. Local leaders who can inspire and organize, town-by-town, county-by-county, will be key to recruiting and mobilizing for the massive effort of rebuilding the Republican Party.

Of all places, the GOP should look to Northern California for an example worth emulating. In just three years in the Democratic stronghold of Santa Clara county—home to Silicon Valley—county chairman Keen Butcher has energized local Republicans and translated that into local victories.

Enthusiasm does not come naturally to Santa Clara GOPers. Bush didn’t crack 35% here in either 2000 or 2004. Making matters worse, the big political money even more disproportionately favors the Democrats.

In just three years, Keen Butcher has given the local party a pulse. When he came in, as just one example, there was no e-mail list for the Santa Clara GOP. Now he’s got 40,000 folks on his list—or roughly one-fifth of county Republicans. According to several local party activists, he has a knack for getting people to turn out, whether for door-knocking or other election-related activities.

This was on display when, late last month, Butcher helped spearhead the Rising Tide festival (along with Lisa Cohen, Charles Marsala and Michael Schwab). Nearly 400 lively Republicans spent a Saturday evening listening to political pep talks—none eliciting a more passionate response than Butcher’s. Not bad in a county where Republicans say that they’re used to feeling isolated and maligned.

Coming from the world of investment banking, Butcher likes to stress the power of leverage. In his political world, this means getting the small handful of folks who are passionate about a particular candidate—whether for a school board or city council seat—goes door-to-door with a slate card, thus promoting all Republican candidates on the ticket.

Out of three county-wide seats, two in Santa Clara are now held by Republicans: sheriff and district attorney. As Butcher loves to note, the Democrats only hold the office of tax assessor. This has already helped at least one statewide candidate: when Arnold ran for re-election in 2006, he got more than double the improvement in Santa Clara than his average elsewhere.

Family issues have forced Butcher to relocate this month to Houston, but the progress he built in Santa Clara hopefully will be maintained. And if Republicans elsewhere are trying to learn lessons about reviving GOP fortunes, they might want to replicate his, ahem, Keen ideas.

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