Trump state director challenges Michigan GOP chair

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The state director for Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign is challenging Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel for the party’s leadership post.

Scott Hagerstrom announced his candidacy Friday, setting up a potential convention showdown with Romney McDaniel, who is seeking re-election in the wake of GOP wins across the state on Nov. 8.

Hagerstrom said he hopes to “turn the momentum from Donald Trump’s historic victory into real change” and use the leadership position to “fight for all Michigan residents.”

“President-elect Trump is looking to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., and we have to continue that and drain the swamp in Lansing,” Hagerstrom told The Detroit News.

“There’s powerful forces at work, special interests that try to work their way back in. We need to set the tone, raise the money, recruit the candidates and be able to put together a strategic vision to get things done.”

Republican Party delegates are expected to vote on the chair at a statewide convention in February. Romney McDaniel has been mentioned as a possible successor to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff in January.

“If she’s still around in February, then people will have to make a decision,” Hagerstrom said.

Romney McDaniel said Wednesday she is focused on her re-election bid despite the RNC speculation.

“I’m honored to be even mentioned,” she said. “I’ve had no conversations regarding that position. I’m focused on running for Michigan Republican Party chair.”

Trump won Michigan by 13,100 votes, according to unofficial results, en route to his national victory. Romney McDaniel was a vocal Trump supporter after he secured the nomination in July and, along with Hagerstrom, helped introduce the New York businessman at several Michigan rallies.

She won election to the post in 2015 and oversaw a successful November election for Republicans. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the GOP maintained its legislative and congressional majorities while picking up statewide education seats typically dominated by Democrats.

“I think Ronna has definitely established herself as a solid organizer and a winner, but there are different factions in the party, and it’s not uncommon for someone to step forward and test the waters,” Republican consultant John Truscott said.

Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan since 1988. While the state party played a role in the New York businessman’s victory, Truscott said Hagerstrom “obviously exceeded expectations” on the campaign.

“I don’t think anybody thought Michigan would go in Trump’s category,” said Truscott, a former longtime communications director for former Gov. John Engler. “He certainly did something right.”

Hagerstrom confirmed Friday he had submitted his resume to the Trump transition team hiring for the incoming administration but said he does not plan to leave Michigan, noting three of his four kids continue to work their way through East Lansing Public Schools.

“If President-Elect Trump was to have a different vision for me, I’d certainly take a look at it, but my place is here in Michigan, and this is where I intend to stay,” he said.

Before leading Trump’s Michigan campaign, Hagerstrom was state director for Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, the local chapter of a group founded by GOP donors Charles and David Koch. He was also part of one of the opposition campaigns to an unsuccessful 2015 ballot proposal that would have raised taxes to fix state roads.

Shortly before Hagerstrom made his run official on Friday morning, Romney McDaniel announced that four out of six co-chairs for Trump’s Michigan campaign were supporting her re-election bid.

Her campaign blasted out statements of support from co-chairs Terry Bowman, Lena Epstein, Linda Lee Tarver and former congressman Pete Hoekstra of Holland, who Trump was reportedly considering for Central Intelligence Agency director before settling on Kansas U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo.

“I have been involved in politics for a long time, and I have never seen someone work as hard as Ronna did to ensure Republican victory in Michigan,” Hoekstra said. “Ronna faced every challenge head-on and did everything she could to get Republicans elected.”

Asked this week about a potential challenge from Hagerstrom, Romney McDaniel said she congratulated “all of our partners in the election,” including the Trump campaign, RNC and House Republican Campaign Committee.

“It was a team effort, but I hope that delegates and voters in Michigan look at the leadership we provided and I provided as state party chair and return me to that post,” she told The News.

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.