With early voting underway and the primary election next week, leaders of the Hardin County Republican Party are spending their own money to discourage support for Daniel London, one of three GOP candidates for judge-executive.
London’s backing of incumbent Democratic officeholders is at the root of this first message being communicated in paid advertisements in the newspaper and on local cable television.
“The Hardin County Republican Party encourages all Republicans to vote. Daniel London is not a true Republican. We support Republicans who support Republicans,” reads the summary of one such sponsored message.
Hardin County Republican Party Chair Cheryl Benitez said its standard practice for the party “to support everybody or try to stay neutral” in the primary party, but the leaders agreed to the letter of non-support and shared the idea at a open membership meeting Monday — eight days prior to the election.
Benitez said no vote of the membership was taken because it is the sentiment of party leaders.
“We don’t want people to think its the whole Republican Party,” she added in a telephone interview, but said the idea had broad support.
When notified of the party’s action, London said he’s a lifelong Republican and will remain so, because he believes in and supports the party’s core conservative principles.
He currently serves as deputy judge-executive, hired by Republican Harry Berry, who is concluding two decades of service in the county’s top council post that London now is seeking. Previously, London worked in the office of US Rep. Ron Lewis, eventually being promoted to serve as GOP congressman’s chief of staff.
London described his personal priorities as “faith, family, country and county” and added, “That’s how I vote.”
He said his support of Sheriff John Ward, a Democrat, through multiple election cycles is based in part on a long-held friendship. He also backs the re-election of Jailer Josh Lindblom based on his track record in the job and proven qualification. As a voter, he said he’s more concerned about their conservative values than party registration.
“I’ve been open and honest about it since Day 1,” London said. “I haven’t hidden it and I’m not going to.”
The Hardin County GOP website lists its leaders as Benitez, Vice Chairman Jim Weise, Treasurer Julia DuPlessis and Secretary Rebecca Owens.
Weise, an outspoken critic of London’s support for Democrats, said the party has well-qualified candidates in Willie Oden for sheriff and Rob Reynolds for jailer. Neither has primary opposition and will face the incumbents in the Nov. 8 general election.
“No reasonable or rational Republican is going to endorse people on the other side,” Weise said.
Weise is among Republican Party members who have criticized London as being disingenuous. They allege London posed as a Republican to obtain financial support but turned his back on the party after building a campaign fund exceeding $200,000.
London said no person who has donated to his campaign requested a refund.
Weise said the officers decided, “We have to bring this to light. … We just can’t sit back and let people vote for someone who is not a good person and not a real Republican.”
He and Benitez said the party leaders carefully considered the issue and did not take their decision lightly.
London said he believes Weise’s issues stem from a personal vendetta against Ward as exhibited, in part, by an ethics complaint Weise filed about ink pens displayed in the sheriff’s office.
London said Weise wants to call the shots and prefers a candidate beholden to the party with strings attached.
“I am no one’s puppet,” London said.
Ken Randall, an active party member locally since 2008, said he agrees that London “thumbed his nose at the party.”
Randall, who is listed as having paid for the cable advertising notice, described the general sentiment at the meeting as: “If he’s going to betray our trust now, what’s he going to do when he gets in office.”
No Democrats filed for the judge-executive seat. Barring a write-in campaign, the winner of the Republican primary next week will be unopposed in the November general election. Also seeking the position in the GOP primary are Keith Taul, a retired businessman and member of the responsible solar campaign locally, and Mark Barrett, who is employed by the county road department.
Benitez, who described London “as a likable guy,” said in addition to his open support for Democrats, London declined to attend some party meetings and rejected an invitation to a party-organized candidate forum May 5. She said he also unsubscribed from electronic notification of party meetings and events.
London said most tell him they are tired of excessive partisanship and he thinks its misplaced at the local government, grassroots level.
“If the party leaders want to split the party, that’s their choice,” he said. “We’ll know Tuesday night whether it has any impact.”
Benitez said she is uncertain what ramifications the party leadership’s statement of non-support would have on politics locally. As the party leader, she’s ready to accept the will of the voting public.
“If he (London) wins, the voters have spoken.” Benitez said “We respect that. We will work with Daniel if he’s elected.”