After the Republican National Committee hired Vermilion native Chris McNulty as its political director last week, Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett toasted the rise of a native son.
In an emailed statement, Bennett praised McNulty as "an extraordinary political mind and a skilled strategist," then reflected on the longtime operative’s work at the state party.
"Ohio Republicans made significant gains during his time at the ORP, including the extremely successful re-election of President Bush in Ohio," Bennett said. "I know he’ll serve the same energy and enthusiasm that he’s put forth throughout his entire political career."
Bush’s Ohio victory in 2004 clinched his second term and has been well-documented. But what about the other gains Bennett referenced? PolitiFact Ohio always appreciates a chance to look back at recent history, so we decided to review McNulty’s entire tenure at the Ohio GOP.
According to the RNC, McNulty joined the state party in 1995 as field representative covering Northeast and Southeast Ohio. He became political director in 1997 and executive director in 2001. He served in the latter post through 2006, then moved on to the national scene.
Republicans swept Democrats out of statewide office in 1990, gaining control of the powerful Apportionment Board and setting up an era of dominance in Columbus. Their hold on the board allowed them to draw legislative districts for General Assembly, which approves congressional boundaries. The GOP had ruled the Ohio Senate since 1985 and captured the House in 1994.
Recounting these events is important, as they all occurred prior to McNulty’s arrival. He joined the Ohio Republican Party at a time of great strength. We narrowed in specifically on the decade in which McNulty held the key positions of political director and executive director.
The most significant accomplishments during that period are the party’s exclusive lock on nonjudicial statewide posts in the 1998 and 2002 elections and control of the General Assembly through 2008. This essentially kept the power of the redistricting pen with Republicans.
In 2000, after Republican George W. Bush won Ohio’s electoral votes in his bid for the White House, McNulty was part of the team sent to Florida to oversee the recount there.
Two years later, under new congressional lines, the party picked up a seat while Democrats lost two. (Because of population trends, Ohio’s delegation shrunk from 19 to 18 seats that year.)
All of these achievements came during McNulty’s time at the Ohio GOP. It is fair to say that under his leadership, the party capitalized on previous gains and enjoyed new ones.
But McNulty’s story doesn’t end in 2004. He served as executive director through 2006. That was the year Democrats won all but one of the statewide administrative offices and unseated Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. Coincidentally, McNulty briefly was a primary candidate for state auditor, serving as a placeholder until questions about Mary Taylor’s petitions were resolved. As it turned out, Taylor was the lone bright spot for the GOP that November.
Republicans also lost a congressional seat that year. Democrat Zack Space won the battle to replace Republican Rep. Bob Ney, who stepped aside amid corruption charges.
The Associated Press caught up with McNulty on Jan. 8, 2007, as Taylor was sworn into office and reported that the reality of the defeat had begun to sink in for the executive director.
"On Election Night, you’re tired," McNulty told the AP. "Today, I’m wide awake. It’s real."
Just as it’s unfair to credit one individual for all the party’s successes, it’s unfair to place all the blame for 2006 at McNulty’s feet. With Bush unpopular, the midterm elections represented a wave for Democrats nationally. And Ney’s legal troubles clearly hurt Republicans in that district.
Bennett said the state party "made significant gains" while McNulty was there. There is no question that this was true between 1997 and 2004. However, Bennett’s statement does not take into account the significant Republican losses in 2006, McNulty’s last year in the Buckeye State.
PolitiFact Ohio is not claiming the losses were McNulty’s fault. We’re not claiming the bad outweighs the good. But the fact that the party was in a weaker position when he left than it was when he arrived is an important clarification.
So on the Truth-O-Meter, Bennett’s statement rates Mostly True.