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WA GOP elects new chair, issues early 2024 endorsement at weekend meeting

Jim Walsh stands at a podium looking to the side with a Washington State flag next to him
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) speaks at a meeting of the Washington State Republican Party, ahead of being elected chair.

Washington Republicans elected a new chair to lead the state party over the weekend – and after a surprise debate, the group also issued an early endorsement for a candidate's 2024 congressional campaign in Southwest Washington.

Rep. Jim Walsh, a state lawmaker from Aberdeen, was elected chair of the Washington State Republican Party during a meeting of party leaders in Olympia Saturday. He says one of his priorities is increasing Republican voter turnout and ensuring those ballots are counted.

"One side has been doing it very aggressively and very effectively, and the other side – this side – has not been, so I want to balance that," he said.

Walsh says he hasn't decided whether he'll keep his seat in the Legislature alongside his new role as party chair. The chair typically oversees party operations, plays a key part in fundraising, and acts as a public face of the party as needed.

Elections continue to prove challenging for the GOP across Washington. Democrats have a majority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold no statewide offices. The last time Washington had a Republican governor was in the 1980s. Just two of Washington's 10 congressional seats are held by Republicans.

But Walsh remains optimistic heading into 2024, as he aims to broaden the GOP's appeal to people who are dissatisfied with the Democratic party.

"They're not quite Republicans yet, but they are free agents as they haven't been in the past, and that is just a massive opportunity for us," Walsh said.

Electing a new chair wasn't the only action Republican leaders took at their weekend meeting.

Walsh's election to the position came after hours of party business – including a surprise debate over whether the group should issue an early endorsement for Joe Kent, who is running for Congress in Southwest Washington. Kent is challenging U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat, who narrowly beat him in 2022.

The endorsement of Kent was initially expected to come at a party convention early next year, but after some back and forth, enough members agreed to suspend meeting rules to take a vote on it at Saturday's meeting. Ultimately, a majority supported the early endorsement for Kent's 2024 campaign.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.