ANDERSON — With six incumbent Republican county officeholders facing a challenge in the May primary, there was an effort to eliminate some of the competition.
The Madison County Republican Party has been embroiled the past few years between the traditional party organization and members of the Madison County Tea Party.
Many of the primary challengers filed their declarations of candidacy on the final day of filing, which was not a surprise to county GOP chairman Russ Willis.
Willis said the challengers to the GOP incumbents in office appear to align themselves with the local tea party organization.
It’s a battle the party has had in the past, he acknowledged.
“I was hoping we could avoid it,” he said.
A week ago, Mike Gaskill filed a challenge with the Madison County Election Board concerning the candidacy of Micah Mitchell against his wife, Kelly, the current Madison County treasurer. The challenge was withdrawn by Gaskill last Tuesday.
Both Willis and Gaskill confirmed there was a meeting to reduce the number of contested races in the GOP primary.
The discussion was that if Gaskill got several candidates to withdraw, Willis would seek to have Mitchell bow out of the treasurer’s race.
“There was a discussion,” Willis said. “It was done to foster party unity.”
Gaskill said he was supportive of the candidates who filed to challenge the incumbent officeholders.
“Two of the three people were recruited by another person,” he said. “None have ever been to a tea party meeting.”
Gaskill said several candidates on the primary ballot have spoken at tea party meetings.
Mick McDonald, a core member of the Madison County Tea Party organization, said he was not aware of the meeting between Willis and Mike Gaskill.
He said none of the candidates are members of the tea party.
“It’s party unity as the old Republican Party members see it,” McDonald said. “We don’t agree with all the old Republican Party ideas.”