BREAKING NEWS: McKay Elected State GOP Chief

Sunday, March 20, 2011


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Avoiding any public discord, Ken McKay was elected Rhode Island Republican Party chairman Saturday as his opponent, Patrick Sweeney, withdrew his candidacy prior to the vote before 175 delegates at the convention at the Quonset "O" Club.  The operative word for Sweeney's surprise stepping-down among the 300-plus attendees was "classy."  The Young Republican up-and-comer received two standing ovations after his announcement.

McKay, a well-respected 43 year-old North Kingstown resident and veteran political operative both in Rhode Island and nationally - having served as chief of staff to both former Governor Donald Carcieri and Michael Steele, chair of the Republican National Committee - said that Sweeney's dropping out came as a bit of surprise.  But he had discussed the inevitable transition from outgoing GOP chair Giovanni Cicione (pictured lower left) in a Thursday meeting where he huddled with both Cicione and Sweeney.  An informal poll of GOP leaders at the meeting's outset indicated that McKay was an overwhelming favorite to ascend to the top spot.

General Assembly House Minority Leader Robert Watson said, "I am sure Ken will provide hard work, because we need to find good"

The Right Skills

John Robitaille, who gave Governor Lincoln Chafee a scare as the GOP challenger in the 2010 election, praised McKay's experience, and said "He has the ability to bring people (to the Republican Party).  He will focus on our core issues such as cutting taxes, lowering spending and indiviual rights.  And he has the right skill set."

Robitaille added, "He will also be a good fundraiser, with national contacts.  He knows people at the national level."

Fundraising Critical

Fundraising was cited as the key challenge for McKay by Cicione and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, a rumored contender for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's Senate seat in 2012.  To date, only businessman Barry Hinckley has formally entered the race for GOP candidacy to oppose Whitehouse. 

"Ken has an incredible amount of experience," said Avedisian. "But the challenge is always raising money."  Cicione echoed his comment nearly verbatim.

McKay explained his strengths as being the ability to organize and the experience mentioned by many, and the change he may be able to effect as chair.

"My focus is different for this party," he said. "It should be used as an organizational tool.  To organize people.  We need to show our ability to turn out like-minded voters.  We don't want the party to go off on tangents."

"There are so few elected Republicans in Rhode Island, people think it is our responsibility to be a shadow government. No. It's to turn out Republican voters," McKay declared. "I came to the party to create a successful foundation to run candidates."

Experience a Key

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McKay also showed confidence in what his experience both in and outside Rhode Island has taught him. 

"I have taken part in winning campaigns.  I've done it," McKay said matter-of-factly. "When I went to the RNC after Obama, we were unsure of the future, but we were able to turn  the public's opinion (of the GOP).  We won the governorship in Virginia.  We won the governorship in New Jersey.  And there was Scott Brown in Massachusetts (who shockingly won U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy's vacated seat after the Democrats legendary "liberal lion" passed away)."

Sweeney certainly bore no ill-feeling about his withdrawal at the eleventh hour.  "It was a hard decison, because I had been working for it, crossing the state to GOP meetings.  But Ken is the best option.  We don't need any more factions in the party."

Touching Gesture

McKay was noticeably touched by Sweeney's gesture of good party faith.

"I didn't ask him, he came to me," the new GOP party chief said. "He was very  modest about it.  But it was the most humbling thing that has happened to me in my political career.  It was an honor.  Patrick is just a great, great guy."


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