Republican State Chairman Chris Healy’s unexpected bid to explore becoming the next Republican national chairman is getting a cool reception in Connecticut: Neither of the state’s other two Republican National Committee members back him.
Pat Longo of Wilton and state Rep. John Frey of Ridgefield said in interviews Thursday they are supporting the incumbent, Michael Steele.
Healy sent Longo an email Wednesday with a story that mentioned him as a possible challenger to Steele.
“I responded, ‘Don’t even think of it.’ I’m sure he is very angry with me today,” said Longo, whose known Healy for nearly 30 years. “He used to call me his ‘other mother.’ “
“I haven’t heard from Chris directly about it. I’m a little surprised” by his interest, Frey said.
Healy told Roll Call he was strongly considering a challenge of Steele, whom he described as ineffectual: “I think at some point someone has to step up and say the emperor has no clothes. I’m more than willing to do that.”
The state chair is likely to be disappointed, but not entirely surprised at his inability to win over Longo and Frey, who provided key support for Steele during his election in 2009.
“I was the one who brought Puerto Rico and the territories around to Michael at the very end,” Longo said. “John is part of Michael’s kitchen cabinet.”
Frey said he was a whip for Steele, helping to round up votes.
Longo, a longtime RNC member, said Steele has between 50 and 60 of the 85 votes he needs to be re-elected in January. Each state gets three votes–one from each RNC member and one from the state party chairman.
“I don’t think Chris has as much support in the northeast as he thinks he does,” said Longo, who intends to support Healy’s re-election as state chair in June, should he run.
Healy was measured in his response.
“I respect both our RNC members and their view on the status of the committee,” Healy said in an email. “I believe they want to do what’s best for the party both in Connecticut and nationally. So do I and that’s why I want to be part of this debate.”
Healy said that his criticism of Steele is part of a conversation about how to improve the party.
“This issue is fixing the RNC to prepare for the 2012 Election. Whether I run for chairman of the RNC is secondary,” he said. “I am reaching out to RNC members to alert them to the facts and get their input. I will make a decision to go forward after weighing all the information.”
Healy’s sudden interest in a bid for RNC chairman surprised Connecticut Republicans, who still are smarting from the GOP national wave failing to reach Connecticut.
The party had hopes of winning open seats for governor and U.S. Senate and unseating Democratic congressmen in the 4th and 5th districts, but it went 0 for 4 in those races on Election Day.
“I’m not sure what kind of spin he is going to put on it. He can make the case that Connecticut is a very blue state,” Frey said. “I’m sure he could tell his story, but success breeds success.”
Richard Foley, a former GOP state chairman, said Healy is a good communicator who helped give the party its best lineup for winning: Tom Foley for governor and Linda McMahon for Senate.
“Chris wasn’t running the McMahon campaign, and he wasn’t running the Foley campaign,” he said.
But come January, the state will be without a Republican holding statewide office or a congressional seat. Republicans also are in the minority in the General Assembly, where the GOP did pick up one Senate and 14 House seats.
“It’s not a good story at the federal level,” said George Gallo, a former state chair who now is the chief of staff for the House Republican leader, Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk.
Gallo said any Republican from New England would have a difficult time winning the chairmanship of a party whose base lies to the south and west.
“The fact that we’re from New England, you’re almost dead on arrival,” Gallo said.
Gallo was part of a group that backed Steve Merrill, the outgoing governor of New Hampshire, for chairman in 1998, but he said the candidacy was not taken seriously by southern RNC members.
The last Republican chairman from New England was Meade Alcorn of Suffield. With the backing of President Dwight Eisenhower, he was chair from 1957 to 1959.
The party’s first 10 national chairmen were from the Northeast. The 8th was Marshall Jewell, a former governor of Connecticut who ran the party from 1880 until 1883, the year he died.