Discontent about Minnesota GOP chairman Ron Carey's endorsement of Mike Huckabee for president surfaced Thursday night at the party's executive committee meeting in St. Paul, and the committee asked the party's central committee to consider prohibiting paid party officers from endorsing candidates.
Carey riled some party activists this week when he endorsed the former Arkansas governor. Some sources said his action is causing growing discord among Republican activists, with some insisting that his support of a candidate could undermine party unity less than a month before Minnesotans vote in precinct caucuses.
It's unusual for a state party leader to endorse a candidate so early in a presidential race, especially when other party activists are backing other candidates. While Carey emphasized that his support is personal, others expressed doubts that he could separate his support for Huckabee from his role as state chairman.
After the meeting broke up shortly before 10 p.m., party spokesman Mark Drake said executive committee members had "a vigorous, good discussion" of Carey's roles as party chairman and Huckabee supporter.
Drake said Carey's status as party chairman wasn't threatened in the meeting, and that no one asked him to step aside from the Huckabee campaign.
Drake said the decision to consider barring paid party officials from doing similar campaign work in the future was the only action taken.
Were assurances given?
But one party activist who said he has contacts in the room reported that committee members won assurances from Carey that he would limit his campaign work for Huckabee and not use state party funds for it.
"We don't need this mess right now," said the activist, Andy Aplikowski , a delegate to the state central committee and a Carey opponent. He said the controversy could hurt party efforts leading up to the Feb. 5 precinct caucuses.
He expressed doubt that the controversy would disappear because some activists, he said, will wonder who Carey is working for before the caucuses.
"You just don't switch it off," he said of Carey's support of Huckabee. "When we need him to make a good decision on our behalf, can we trust him ... or is he going to go with his heart again?"
Executive committee meetings are closed to the public, but members leaving the meeting Thursday night confirmed the committee's action.
"There was a pretty robust discussion about the situation," said Secretary-Treasurer Tony Sutton.
Carey could not be reached for comment, but when he endorsed Huckabee Monday, he acknowledged that the endorsement would be controversial and he would be criticized by some party members.
Some people 'are really upset'
One executive committee member who planned on attending the meeting, Brian Sullivan, acknowledged Thursday that "there are people who are really upset with this decision of Carey."
Carey's decision to back Huckabee also puts him at odds with other key Republican leaders. Sullivan is state co-chair for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who also has the support of Sutton.
Joe Repya, who challenged Carey for chairman last summer, said his decision to back a candidate also has annoyed more rank-and-file party members.
Phone ringing off the hook
After Carey made the announcement, "My phone started ringing off the hook," said Repya, who supports former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
Repya said some delegates vowed to call for a state central committee meeting to unseat Carey if he doesn't withdraw from Huckabee's campaign.
Aplikowski said while the executive committee can't dismiss Carey as chairman, it could threaten to use the salary it sets for him as leverage to pressure him to withdraw from the Huckabee campaign.
Drake said no such threat was made in the meeting.
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