Amid RNC talk, Romney McDaniel may face challenge for Michigan GOP chair
Lansing — Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Wednesday she is focused on her state re-election bid — and a potential convention challenge — despite speculation that President-elect Donald Trump could pick her to lead the Republican National Committee.
Romney McDaniel told The Detroit News she is “honored to be even mentioned” as a candidate to replace RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who will step down in January to serve as Trump’s chief of staff. But she said she has had “no conversations regarding that position” with Trump or his team.
“If the Trump campaign is looking at me as a potential RNC chair, I think that should be a signal to Michigan voters that my leadership is being recognized on a national level, and it’s certainly the kind of leadership that Michigan should want for the future,” she said.
Scott Hagerstrom, state director for the Trump campaign, confirmed Wednesday he is “very interested” in running for Michigan Republican Party chair and expects to make a decision by Dec. 1.
He could challenge Romney McDaniel at the state party convention in February, setting up a showdown between two candidates who can both credibly say they helped a Republican presidential candidate win Michigan for the first time since 1988.
“There’s a lot of people that have approached me, and a lot of people that have already written me unsolicited checks,” Hagerstrom told The News. “It’s a distinct possibility.”
A group called West Michigan Republicans is set to host Hagerstrom Monday in Muskegon for a post-election speech. Organizers said the event will also serve as a fundraiser to support his state chair campaign.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said Wednesday he is “inclined” to seek re-election but has not made a final decision. It’s not yet clear if he would face any challengers.
Michigan Republicans had a strong showing on Nov. 8. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the GOP retained control of the Michigan House, returned incumbent justices to the Supreme Court, picked up two seats on the State Board of Education and maintained a nine-to-five advantage in U.S. House seats.
Those type of electoral victories tend to bode well for state party chairs like Romney McDaniel, who navigated choppy waters in the presidential race. She was a vocal supporter of Trump following his nomination despite misgivings by some other high-profile Republicans, including her uncle, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
First elected at a party convention in early 2015, Romney McDaniel said she wants to “hit the ground running” again ahead of the 2018 elections, when Republicans and Democrats will compete for statewide positions, including governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
“I think I’ve proven, and my team has proven, that we’re ready to lead Michigan and keep us red,” she said.
Hagerstrom said the Trump campaign “worked very well” with Romney McDaniel this cycle, but he said he also saw the inner workings of the state party and “so many ways there could be improvements.”
A popular figure within the conservative grassroots, Hagerstrom previously served as state director for American for Prosperity-Michigan, the local chapter of a group founded by GOP donors Charles and David Koch. He was also part of the campaign against an unsuccessful 2015 ballot proposal that would have raised taxes to fix state roads.
The GOP is reshaping itself as “the party of hard-working men and women across Michigan,” Hagerstrom said, citing Trump’s stunning win last week. “There’s certainly a sea change and powerful forces at work, and I would want to continue that.”
Oakland County activist Matt Maddock, co-founder of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, said he may run for state party chair if Hagerstrom doesn’t. But he called Hagerstrom’s potential run “a good thing for all Michigan Republicans.”
“The people that have been controlling our party with their big money donations, and people listening to them like our current chair, are pulling our party in the wrong direction,” Maddock said.
Romney McDaniel called herself “a grassroots chair,” noting she had served on the state and national Republican committees before taking over the state party. She pointed to permanent GOP offices and new efforts to reach out to county and district chairs.
“Everything we did in this state helped us mobilize our grassroots and get them out on Election Day to turn out that vote,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews.”