With Dallas Republicans in Pain, One Local Leader Believes He Has the Cure

How County Chair Jonathan Neerman Plans to Ease the Dallas GOP's Woes

Sessions did not return phone calls from the Observer, and Neerman denies he discussed the position with Sessions. He says he shifted his focus to George's job because "I thought about the direction that I wanted the Republican Party to go nationally, but the way to start it was locally, right here in Dallas."

Neerman met with several local Republican leaders and quickly earned their endorsements. His only opponent was Alan Tompkins, vice president and general counsel for three entities owned by the family of Lamar Hunt. Tompkins, however, removed his name from consideration, and Neerman was named vice chair of the party in January, officially taking the helm in May.

"It's just kinda funny to think about, especially after going through the loss we went though [in 2006], why anybody would want to be county chairman, because it is a thankless task," he says. "You have 30 different masters, and if you lose, the Monday morning quarterbacking starts. I guarantee you it started at 6:30 Tuesday night, and it won't stop until 2010."

Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman
Hal Samples
Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman
As his wife fought back tears, Lowell Cannaday gave his concession speech after losing the sheriff's race by 10 points to Democratic incumbent Lupe Valdez.
Hal Samples
As his wife fought back tears, Lowell Cannaday gave his concession speech after losing the sheriff's race by 10 points to Democratic incumbent Lupe Valdez.

Neerman places his BlackBerry—which he uses to represent Dallas County—in the middle of the table to illustrate his get-out-the-vote strategy during the 2008 election cycle. The screen is the Southern sector of the county, he says, and then he proceeds to point to suburban cities such as Cedar Hill, Coppell, Garland, Rowlett, Sachse and Sunnyvale. He says after its poor showing in 2006, the party targeted these outer-rim, high-density Republican areas to increase turnout.

But even if the GOP had been able to turn out its base vote from 2004, Neerman says a massive grassroots effort would have been needed to find approximately 50,000 new Republican voters to counter the Obama momentum. And no one was willing to fund that kind of drive, which Neerman compares to the effort poured into the mayoral campaign by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who raised more than $2 million in his successful 2007 campaign. And in this election cycle, there was no candidate attractive enough to raise that kind of money.

Although the party had only $5,000 in the bank at the beginning of the year, Neerman managed to raise $500,000 more. Money was spent mostly on creating a new GOP Web site, paying for employees and overhead at county headquarters, and covering the costs of phone banks, push cards, door hangers and a letter reminding people to vote straight-ticket Republican.

Some funds were also spent on McCain-Palin yard signs because they weren't provided by the national campaign. Although done on a smaller scale than 2006, funds were also spent on micro-targeting, a method which uses, among other things, consumer histories to help determine the party affiliation of voters who didn't vote in a primary.

"If anyone says we lost this election because of who we were targeting...that's just complete bullshit," Neerman says. "We lost because we didn't get enough voters out to overcome the Obama wave."

Although Neerman offers no apologies, he knows that frustration within the party is at an all-time high, and people are searching for someone to blame. Rather than hide in his cushy downtown office while the GOP faithful grab their pitchforks, Neerman has decided instead to schedule an open-mic night and confront his detractors face to face.

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Nearly 100 people take up Neerman on his gripe session on November 20, overflowing the meeting room at GOP headquarters near Walnut Hill Lane on Central Expressway. He decided not to allow any press coverage so those in attendance would speak freely. But he has no problem reconstructing the meeting, which included approximately 40 precinct chairs, a handful of elected officials and at least 25 people he had never seen before.

The goal of the meeting, he says, was to "take the spears and herd the cats." To his surprise, no one blamed him, but there were plenty who called for revamping the party message after yet another dismal drubbing at the polls. While opinions varied on exactly what the party's new strategy should be, the consensus was the GOP desperately needed to broaden its base.

Neerman says most attendees agreed the party must reach out to minorities, gays and lesbians, but only a small faction seemed willing to speak about changing the party's conservative social agenda in order to incorporate more diverse points of view. "You've got a conundrum because you've got to broaden the party, but there are going to be segments who don't want to do the things necessary to achieve that type of outreach," he says.

There was a frank, sometimes heated discussion about the role of government. While all conservatives support limited government, Neerman says social conservatives, who typically interject religion into their arguments, want government to step in and regulate when it serves their agenda, particularly hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

For Neerman, the highlight of the night was when a young mother stood up and gave a testimonial about finding the Dallas County Republican Party on Facebook, a social networking Web site. "She's the first person I'll call tomorrow," he says, realizing the importance the Internet plays in connecting candidates with young voters—which is why he wants the woman to begin blogging on the party Web site.

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