But the chairman, a black Republican billed as the new, moderate face of the party, has heartened the Rhode Island GOP with talk of a renewed focus on blue states. And his choice for Republican National Committee executive director, former Carcieri campaign manager and chief of staff Ken McKay, has only brightened the local mood.
Trillo, the state's Republican National Committeeman, said he is angling for some $3 million in a move that would turn Rhode Island into a test case for Republican resurgence. But Cicione, the party chairman, is hoping for something more modest — a cash infusion that would boost the GOP's annual budget from about $120,000 to some $350,000.
The money would allow the cash-strapped party, which has one paid staff member, to hire an executive director, and perhaps add a fundraising expert and communications director, Cicione said, laying the groundwork for a 10-year recovery.
But West, the former political science professor, said a small investment probably wouldn't make much of a dent in the Democratic armor. And any hopes of a bigger cash infusion for Rhode Island, he added, are "delusional."
Dean's "50-state strategy," which poured resources into red states in a bid to widen the Democratic Party's appeal, was a success because the left had a favorable fundraising and public opinion climate amid rising discontent with the Bush Administration.
The Republican National Committee enjoys no such advantages, West said. And with limited resources, the party could hardly be expected — whatever Steele's rhetoric — to put significant dollars into a state with no viable candidates for major office.
Rhode Island Republicans, he said, would do better to focus on the low-cost work of building a farm team — electing the School Committee and City Council members who could be the governors and US Senators of the future.
Some in the party grumble that the GOP has done a poor job, to date, of cultivating and funding local candidates. But officials say they recognize the importance of the task. And there were a few signs of progress, this fall, in an otherwise disheartening election.
In Warwick, Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian added a GOP ally to an all-Democratic City Council. In Coventry, Republicans took control of a Democratic-dominated Town Council. And in Cran-ston, Republican Allan Fung won the mayoralty in a heavily Democratic year.
Indeed, party leaders say Fung and Avedisian, a gifted politician widely expected to run for statewide office next year, are the best hope for the future of the GOP. But even that hope could prove false.
Insiders speculate that Avedisian will leave the party and run for lieutenant governor on an independent ticket with Chafee, a close political ally. And the mayor, in an interview last week, would not rule out the possibility.
If he does defect, it would be another blow to the local image of a party that has already suffered through eight years of Bush messaging, the departure of Chafee, and the more recent loss of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.
A ONE-PARTY STATE?
But would the collapse of the Rhode Island GOP matter much? Democrats say one-party rule is not as Orwellian as it sounds.
"Just because we have Democrats [in charge] does not mean — and it's evident every day the legislature meets — that we're in agreement on everything," said William J. Lynch, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.