Politics & Government

NC GOP flap exposes divisions in party

Exposing fault lines that mirror those of the national Republican Party, North Carolina’s GOP chairman Wednesday lashed out at the party’s executive director Wednesday, accusing him of cutting off his email and “working around” him.

Hasan Harnett, the state GOP’s first African-American chairman, also asked Dallas Woodhouse, “Am I not white enough for you?”

“I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black Chairman of the NCGOP State Party through?” he wrote Woodhouse. “Or is it because I am not white enough for you? You keep pushing the limits.”

Woodhouse called those comments “unfortunate.” He downplayed the email shut-off, saying the party had been dealing with “a significant electronic security issue.”

“Many people on the system including me, the chairman (and vice chair) had their email turned off to protect our systems while we handled this,” he said.

Harnett, from Harrisburg, said his email was restored around midafternoon.

The acrimony comes less than a week before a primary where voters will nominate Republican candidates for president and other federal and state offices. The Republican presidential contest so far has been marked by the success of outsiders, such as businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and the pushback from establishment Republicans, such as Mitt Romney.

In North Carolina, Wednesday’s feud appears to reflect the festering tension that led to Harnett’s election in 2015.

Supported by grass-roots and tea party activists, he upset a candidate backed by Gov. Pat McCrory as well as the outgoing state chairman and other top GOP officials. Harnett, a self-described constitutional conservative, became the first person championed by the grass roots, not the establishment, to lead the state party.

A Massachusetts native, Harnett is an entrepreneur, martial arts enthusiast and motivational speaker who majored in biochemistry in college. A Republican for just five years, he remained relatively unknown to many in his party as well as the state.

The email flap is apparently just the latest friction between Harnett and his staff. Woodhouse was named to the post last fall by the party’s Central Committee. He directs the day-to-day activities of the party. The chairman is the face and often the voice of the party.

Harnett’s email to Woodhouse, obtained by a conservative blog called The Daily Haymaker, recounted a litany of slights.

“Why are (you) fighting me?” Harnett wrote. “I have brought sound ideas to the table and have bent over backwards to make great things happen for all of us at the NCGOP.

“It is apparent that my sincere help and service to the Republican Party is not appreciated or welcomed by you and the Central (party) Committee. It is apparent that you and the Central Committee want to do your own thing by working around me as opposed to working with me.”

Ada Fisher of Salisbury, a member of the state party’s national committee, warned against reading too much into the dispute, which she said involved “internal matters.”

“Sometimes a disagreement is just a disagreement,” she said.

But Charlotte Republican Vince Coakley, whose 2014 congressional campaign was managed by Harnett, said the party owes activists some answers.

“If there was a vote to elect the chairman, the chairman needs to be supported. Period,” said Coakley. “If that’s not happening, we need to figure out why, and that needs to be a priority.”

Coakley, who is African-American, said Harnett’s trouble doesn’t help the party’s professed goal of expanding its base. “If we’re a party that’s concerned about inclusiveness, then we need to display that,” he said.

Jack Brosch, a grass-roots activist from Mecklenburg County who ran for state chair in 2013, said “there’s definitely a schism in the party.”

“It’s not hard for me to draw a pretty straight line from Dallas Woodhouse to Marco Rubio and John Kasich and from Hasan Harnett to Ted Cruz and Trump,” he said.

Speaking to Cabarrus County Republicans last week, Harnett said the party had to unite.

“We must come together as one party to defeat the Democrats,” he said. “A house divided will fall. That is why we must be united heading into November. We must have energetic turnout, momentum and consensus in all our ranks.”

North Carolina is again expected to be a swing state in November. Polls show a close contest in a matchup of Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, leaders in the delegate race in their respective parties.

One Republican consultant said it’s no time for intraparty battles.

“The last thing Republicans need going into the general election of 2016,” said Larry Shaheen, “is their chairman and executive director sniping at each other in the press.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill