The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

April 7, 2012

Bennett says he’s willing to be Ohio GOP chairman

COLUMBUS —  The longest-serving chairman in the history of the Ohio Republican Party said Friday that he’s willing to return to the job, as party infighting has led its current chairman to announce his resignation.

Former state chairman Bob Bennett said in a letter to the party’s governing body that his decades of experience could help to unite the party’s focus during a high-stakes presidential election year.

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning the battleground state of Ohio.   

“Although I am certainly not seeking another career as chairman, I do understand the urgent need to bring all of us together for the huge task ahead,” Bennett told the 66-member state central committee.

Current Chairman Kevin DeWine has announced he will step down next week amid feuding with Republican Gov. John Kasich about control over the party.

Kasich’s allies had recruited a slate of challengers to the party’s state central committee, who they had believed would support DeWine’s ouster at their meeting on April 13.  

Seeking to avoid what he said would be a “party-splitting dispute,” DeWine announced Wednesday night that he’ll step aside at the meeting and preside over the election of his successor by the committee.

Bennett, who served as chairman from 1988 until 2009, said he had been approached by many GOP members about coming back to the job to calm tensions within the party that had been bubbling since the 2010 elections.

Bennett said he largely stayed out of the spat between Kasich and DeWine and tried to keep the lines of communication open between them.

“This was not good for the party,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m a party guy. Forty years in this business and I know how you can destroy a party with the intraparty fights. And my whole thing was to try to resolve the differences.”

Bennett said it was DeWine’s choice to resign, a decision he commended.8

DeWine and other Republicans, including Bennett, had expressed concerns the infighting could jeopardize the party’s efforts to deliver the swing state this fall to the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.   

“I think we move on from there,” he said. “Kevin did a lot good things for the party.”

DeWine has served as chairman since 2009 and was unanimously elected by the state central committee to a second term in 2011. He oversaw the GOP’s resurgence in the state in the 2010 elections, when Republicans swept Ohio Democrats out of four statewide offices — including the governor’s — and grabbed control of the Legislature.

DeWine will remain a member of the party’s state central committee, and he plans to continue raising money for the GOP as a member of the national party’s finance committee.

Something went array between Kasich and DeWine during the midterm elections, Bennett said, and the two have not had a good working relationship.

“Don’t know what, never tried to find out, wasn’t important to me,” he said. “Sometimes those things just build and build.”

The race to be chairman is wide open, Bennett said. And while he’s not aware of other candidates, he plans to campaign for the post and lay out his platform for party members.

Bennett said he would intend to stay chairman through fall election and run for again for the position in January. He said he would plan to prepare for the 2014 midterm elections, while the party works to identify another permanent chairman.

“This is not a long-term thing,” he said. “The idea is that at the end of ’14, I’m done.”

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