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Hillsborough County GOP chief stepping aside

TAMPA — With the 2008 election over, Hillsborough County Republicans are talking about greater inclusion of blacks, Hispanics and young people as they look toward their party's future.

Already, changes at the top are brewing.

David Storck, chairman of the county GOP for the past two years, won't seek re-election to the post. Storck didn't return phone calls for this story, but party members say if he had attempted re-election, it would have been a bitter fight.

Just days before the general election, Storck forwarded hundreds of members an e-mail from a volunteer that warned of "the threat" of carloads of black people going to the polls to vote for Barack Obama.

He prefaced the forwarded e-mail by saying: "If you think it can help us win this election, please pass it on."

The e-mail prompted charges of racism from within the local GOP ranks, calls for Storck to resign, and condemnation from state party leaders and John McCain's campaign.

Janice Torgersen, secretary of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, said Storck chose not to fight for the position because he didn't want the controversy to dominate party elections next month.

"He thought he was becoming a polarizing figure and more attention would be focused on him than on rebuilding the Republican Party," Torgersen said.

Party members say they have much work to do after failing to mobilize McCain supporters in a county seen as a critical battleground in the race for president.

Hillsborough went to Barack Obama, who got 53 percent of the vote to McCain's 46 percent, after backing Republicans in six of the seven previous presidential contests. Bill Clinton won in 1996 by only 2.5 percent.

"We've got to look at what happened in this last election and why we did not win Hillsborough County," said former state Rep. Sandy Murman. "If we've gotten complacent because we've always been Republican, it kind of threw a bucket of cold water in our face."

Raising money and recruiting volunteers has to start right away, given that Hillsborough is considered a bellwether for the state and the Republican governor is up for re-election in 2010, she said.

Many Republicans say reinvigorating the local party will require raising the profile of minorities, young people and women so they can work together to spread the messages of small government, low taxes and individual responsibility.

"We have the black Republicans, we have the Hispanic Republicans," Torgersen said. "After Barack Obama's election, I wish we could get away from all the hyphens."

Possible successors to Storck are GOP activist Mark Proctor and Deborah Cox-Roush, events coordinator for the party for the past two years.

Proctor said the party needs to figure out how to hold on to social liberals who still embrace the Republican principles of fiscal conservatism.

"The Democrats have many, many legs to their stool," he said.

Labor unions, teachers, proponents of gay rights and prochoice groups have been able to work together, Proctor said.

"The Republican stool has been basically the fiscal conservatives, the social conservatives and to some extent the military," he said. "Those three didn't always getting along together."

Cox-Roush said as chairman, she would set up African-American, Hispanic and other advisory boards so GOP leadership could get input from all constituents.

"It's not our grandmother's party anymore," she said. "We want the youth involved. We want the African-Americans involved in the party, and women. We just have to reach out."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Hillsborough County GOP chief stepping aside 11/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 13, 2008 9:36pm]
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