Montgomery County Republicans ousted their first-term leader in favor of returning a former chairman to the party's top spot on Tuesday, amid concerns over candidate recruitment and the party's image in the age of Donald Trump.
The close vote (22-24) of the MCGOP Central Committee replaced first-term Chairman Richard Jurgena in favor of Treasurer Mark Uncapher, who returns to the Chairmanship he once held for five terms. Members voting to oust Jurgena stressed the need to change strategy in what will be a pivotal midterm election next year.
"I think we need to move in a different direction," former party chairman Michael Higgs said during a speech nominating Uncapher for the Chairmanship.
Higgs noted that Montgomery County will play an important role in next year's gubernatorial election, and with "everything" resting on whether Republicans can convince independents and Democrats who may like Governor Larry Hogan (R) to come out and vote for a Republican even if they dislike President Trump, a seasoned hand needs to be at the helm.
"I believe we need our best people running this effort," he said. "Mark has the political experience we need right now."
But Greg Decker – a candidate for a Vice Chairmanship who placed Jurgena's name into nomination – said he doesn't want to go back to the old ways.
"Some people want to go back to previous leadership, but I don't want to go back to the way things were," he said. "I like the changes I saw this year."
But Uncapher countered that whether things change or stay the same isn't as important as addressing the "two elephants in the room" – whether the entire committee is focused on moving in the same direction, and (more importantly) whether Montgomery County Republicans are ready for next year's election.
"We're behind the eight ball in identifying candidates to run in key districts," he noted.
Even though term limits are leaving many seats open in next year's election and a new public campaign financing system makes running for office more accessible, candidates willing to run as a Republican remain scarce despite the approaching February filing deadline.
In the race to replace County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett (D), six Democrats are running, but only perennial candidate and gadfly Robin Ficker – who has often run for office as an independent – has chosen to enter the race for the GOP.
In the race for three At-Large seats on the County Council, there are 26 Democrats running but not a single Republican challenger. Only three Republicans are running for the County Council's district seats, and two of those candidates – Ed Amatetti and Tom Ferleman – are running against each other in the same district.
Republican candidates for Montgomery County's legislature seats are equally scarce, with only four Republicans running for 32 seats in 8 districts.
"I really hoped we would have been further ahead," Uncapher said.