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As Long as We Remember...

May 8, 2014

The Changing Face of GOP “Dinners”

Chris Cavey

Over the past 20 or more years, my opinion of county Lincoln/Reagan Dinners has dramatically changed. Back in the day, I looked forward to seeing who was there. Later I was proudly in-charge of several and promoted the event. Now I dread every one.


So what changed?


In 1995, Sen. Phil Graham was the speaker at the Baltimore County Lincoln Day Dinner. I paid for a table of 10! Brought my friends and a few employees to see the Senator from Texas, we were all impressed by him. I was impressed because I rubbed elbows with the GOP elite from Baltimore County. How cool was that! I thought I was somebody – and so did the others at my table!


As time passed, I became the guy in-charge. My friend Bob Ehrlich was the governor and he was my guest at five of the seven dinners I hosted. I introduced the governor, an RNC Chairman, a few obligatory Members of Congress, presidential candidate John McCain (on National TV) and best of all White House Press Secretary Dana Perino! As chairman, I was hot stuff hosting crowds of over 500 and making big profits on each dinner. It was very cool!


Now I attend multiple county dinners as a "staffer" for the second gubernatorial cycle in a row. I get to see dinners in large counties and small ones, too. I hear a variety of speakers and watch the crowd. Some things have changed, and some have not.


Members of Congress still speak too long. They all start out great but after 30 minutes, it starts to get pretty old – and they never speak less than 30 minutes. (Perhaps it is a Congressional rule – who knows?) Why don't committees ever have comedians? Or the Marine Band? Or interpretive dance? Why are crowds subjected to Members of Congress? Haven't we learned?


This year, for some reason, committees think it is interesting to have gubernatorial candidates, or their surrogates, regurgitate for five to 10 minutes each thinking that – plus rubber chicken – is worth the price of admission. Boy, are they wrong and they do the candidate a true disservice!


Think about it. Unlike 10 years ago candidates, candidate invitees and Central Committee members only attend the dinners now. To prove this point at the next dinner watch how many elected officials and or candidates are introduced – typically over half the room. Sitting with them are their entourages. There are very few "undecided" voters in the room – if any. Most candidates would gain more votes shaking hands at the local 7-11 during the three uncomfortable hours crammed in a room together – for the third, fourth or eleventh time!


Prior to my election as a committee chairman, I would personally buy a table and invite guests. Sometimes I would invite elected officials as my guest. I have always thought it strange, even though I have participated, that committees arm-twist candidates to buy tables and tickets to a dinner where the proceeds are meant to support candidate efforts. It is like a fee. Somehow, those who pay benefit.


Committees have gotten lazy. They strong arm candidates and elected officials and have stopped looking for new blood. Seriously, someone recruited me the first time! Why aren't we looking for fresh faces? There has to be plenty out there. In 2010 there were 39,360 Republicans who voted in the primary election…I am sure they all eat.


Each county has the same problem. We constantly only work within the circle of GOP activists. I think that number is less than two percent of the total voting population. Two percent of 39,360 is 787. There are NOT 787 members in every GOP club, on the Central committee and in the candidate committees of every candidate combined in all of Baltimore County! Yet it is consistently the target market for each dinner… and we wonder why we are dying.


One day we will learn to market to the 98 percent of Republican primary voters and we will realize they are only 13.2 percent of the total voting population!


We are small because we think small.


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