http://www.news-record.com/content/2011/01/13/article/hayes_vice_chair_ex_guilford_chief_want_nc_gop_jobHayes, vice chair, ex-Guilford chief want N.C. GOP job
Thursday, January 13, 2011
(Updated 8:32 pm)
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH (AP) — Then-state Rep. Robin Hayes wore the anti-establishment label while upsetting Richard Vinroot in the 1996 Republican gubernatorial primary. Now after serving in Congress for a decade, Hayes is the one being called the insider in the race to become the next state Republican Party chairman.
Hayes, current party Vice Chairman Tim Johnson and former Guilford County Chairman Marcus Kindley are the announced candidates for Saturday's state GOP election to serve out the remaining five months of the two-year term of Tom Fetzer. The longtime Republican political operative announced following the November elections he was leaving his post early.
His potential successors are talking up grass-roots credentials after a year that saw tea party activists largely side with Republican candidates, contributing to the GOP wresting control of the General Assembly from Democrats for the first time in 112 years. The winner, to be chosen by hundreds of members of the GOP executive committee meeting in Raleigh, should have a leg up in June when the larger state GOP Convention convenes to elect a chairman for another two years.
Republicans point to 2012 as a critical year in which they aim to extend their new majority in the General Assembly, unseat Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and return the state's electoral voters to the GOP after Barack Obama ended a 32-year Democratic drought in 2008.
Frank Williams, a regional GOP leader in Brunswick County who declined to identify whom he supports, said he wants to elect the person "who I can think can be the most effective spokesperson, fundraiser and public leader for our party."
Hayes, who lost the 1996 general election to Gov. Jim Hunt, represented the 8th Congressional District for ten years until Larry Kissell beat him in 2008. He's won endorsements from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and presumptive General Assembly leaders Rep. Thom Tillis and Sen. Phil Berger. They are all on the executive committee, which has more than 600 members, including current state and county party leaders, elected officials and former state chairmen.
"I feel like the party's helped me over the past 20 years," said Hayes, 65, a descendant of the Cannon textile family, hosiery mill owner and social conservative. He said he's been involved in local party building throughout his political career and serving as chairman would be a great way to give back. "There will be wide open doors in my chairmanship for those who want to work and those who want to advance the principles of the Republican Party."
Johnson, a former Buncombe County GOP chairman, was elected the first black vice chairman in state GOP history at the June 2009 state party convention. He's chairman of the national Frederick Douglass Foundation, which promotes Republican and conservative principles in the black community.
Johnson, 46, defeated the incumbent vice chairman on a pledge of bringing more diversity to the party and said he's followed through on that. He and Fetzer had a strained relationship and Johnson complained he was left out of the loop on party business.
"I have the relationships within the party, and I am considered a free thinker and not part of the establishment," Johnson said. "There were people like me who were visible to tea party groups. They chose to vote for Republicans because of my leadership and my ability."
New state Rep. Glen Bradley credits Johnson for bringing him and activists with more libertarian leanings to the table and helping them win.
Bradley, R-Franklin, said Hayes "is part of the same circle of Republicans who have run the Republican Party for the past 40 years, and I am very interested in bringing in fresh blood."
David Robinson, GOP chairman for the 13th Congressional District, said he's backing Hayes because he believes a steady hand is needed now that Republicans are in a stronger position: "There is a certain stability that he will bring and certain businesslike approach to the chairmanship that will be critical this year."
Kindley, who is now on his fourth campaign for the chairman's post since 2006, said he organized tea party activists last year. He said Hayes' candidacy has created suspicion among rank-and-file GOP activists that Hayes has been Fetzer's hand-picked successor. Other activists don't like Hayes for his votes supporting free-trade agreements while in Congress.
"What I see is people in Raleigh making decisions about who is going to be the next chairman," said Kindley, 55.
Hayes said Fetzer didn't choose him and finds irony in being labeled the establishment candidate after his surprising 1996 primary victory.
"I'm running my own race, but my record is very, very clear," he said.