New state GOP Chair Andrew Hitt says the road to the White House in 2020 runs right through Wisconsin.
It’s his job to make sure the state party is ready.
Hitt goes into his first state convention this weekend as party chair with Republicans looking to rebound from their losses in 2018. Beyond that, he’ll be tasked with implementing the recommendations of a party postmortem finding it had lost touch with the grassroots activists and now needs to focus on congressional and county parties.
Part of that also will be building an infrastructure that can help President Trump as he looks to win Wisconsin in back-to-back elections — the first time a Republican would do that since Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
Trump’s campaign is starting to pitch in on that front with plans to hire regional directors along with nine state directors across the country. Hitt said Wisconsin will be one of the nine, though that hire hadn’t been announced yet.
He also said he’s in contact with the Trump campaign almost weekly to work in unison toward 2020.
Wisconsin was one of the last stands for “never Trumpers” in the 2016 GOP primary as the state went for Ted Cruz, and Trump struggled that fall in traditional Republican strongholds such as the Milwaukee suburbs.
But Hitt said he believes that has faded away, thanks in part to the success of the economy and the stock market.
The latest Marquette University Law School Poll found 91 percent of self-identified Republican voters approved of the job Trump is doing.
“We’re really working hand in hand,” Hitt said. “I don’t see that schism. I’m talking with donors all over the state. I’m talking with grassroots leader all over the state. It just doesn’t exist in Wisconsin. I don’t know about anywhere else, but not here.”
Still, former Gov. Scott Walker struggled in the Milwaukee suburbs last fall, failing to capture as large a share of the vote in counties such as Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington as he had in the past. That was seen by many as a sign that Trump had damaged the GOP brand with some Republican-leaning voters, particularly suburban, college-educated women.
Hitt said he’s sensed that has started to fade away, pointing to the state Supreme Court race last month as evidence. Conservative Brian Hagedorn hit the more traditional levels of support in the WOW counties that Republicans are used to seeing for their candidates.
“We saw people more unified, more organized, fighting like crazy to get him elected because of the overreach that the Democrats did on attacking his religious beliefs,” Hitt said. “I think to the extent there is any image problem, it’s fading and we can overcome it by working hard.”
After the convention this weekend in Oshkosh, Hitt said the party will really start moving on the recommendations from the postmortem. He’s already started on some of that work by doing grassroots events around the state.
And that includes fundraising as well.
At the end of April, the party had $638,454 in its federal account, according to FEC filings. That’s more than the $378,899 it had cash on hand at the end of April 2017, the last off year.
But its state fundraising is lagging. The party reported $518,439 in that account in mid-April, its most recent report filed with the state. By comparison, the party had $1.7 million in the bank at the end of June 2017. That more robust cash on hand number was likely helped by having Walker in the guv’s office and donors willing to contribute as he geared up for re-election.
Hitt acknowledged it will be more of a challenge for the party to raise money without Walker in office. But he believes there’s a renewed excitement among the party faithful as the party begins the process of re-tooling.
“They’re very excited about the direction of the party,” said Hitt, 41. “They’re excited to have a younger leader full of energy. There’s not donor fatigue; there’s not any issues that are popping up when I’m talking to them. So I’m very bullish on it. I think we’re going to do very well this cycle raising money.”
Listen to the interview: