Palm Beach County GOP faces friction, unhappiness with chair as 2024 elections loom

Palm Beach County Republicans say the 2024 presidential election presents an historic opportunity to help return the locally residing former president to the White House. But first, the top echelons of the party have to work out some internal disagreements and conflicts.

At the center of the friction is party chairman Kevin Neal. The unhappiness with Neal, less than a year into his tenure, is evident in a no confidence vote last month, a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County court and consternation over what his critics say is underwhelming fundraising.

Former county GOP chair, Sid Dinerstein, a Neal critic, said he is troubled by the new chairman's removal of a longtime events coordinator from her post. But he said his main concern with Neal is the lackluster fundraising that Dinerstein fears will make the county's GOP chapter ineffective.

“2024 is what we called the biggest year of our lives,” Dinerstein said. “We’re going to be a county that’s going to sit it out because we don’t have any money.”

New GOP chair took over party on a roll

Neal was elected chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County in June. By all indications, it was a plum assignment.

In November 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis won traditionally blue Palm Beach County, as did the other statewide GOP candidates, as they steamrolled to the biggest electoral victory the Florida Republican Party had seen in decades.

Locally, Republicans flipped a state House seat in Boca Raton and took commission county seats, too. Then Neal's predecessor as party chair, Michael Barnett, was named to the county commission by the governor and the GOP suddenly had a majority for the first time in more than 15 years.

In taking the reins last summer, Neal stepped into a party on a dramatic ascent. But that era of good feelings didn't last.

On Jan. 18, Neal was rebuked by the county chapter's ruling board, the Republican Executive Committee (REC), via a vote of “no confidence.” The tally was 82-63 against him, according to messages from members who attended.

However, despite being on the losing end, Neal remains in the party's top job because the REC's action does not automatically remove him from the post. In an interview, Neal acknowledged the vote against him, but said he remains undeterred and far from discouraged.

“We have a vote, it’s nonbinding,” Neal said. “It’s largely a result from the growing pains we are facing in our party as we tailor our strategies to our county, which is shifting from blue to red.”

Members of Palm Beach County's Republican Party are itching to re-elect Donald Trump. But can they first resolve a series of fractious internal disputes?
Members of Palm Beach County's Republican Party are itching to re-elect Donald Trump. But can they first resolve a series of fractious internal disputes?

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Internal conflicts in the Palm Beach County GOP

The dissatisfaction with Neal roughly nine months into his two-year term, stems from personal conflicts with an REC member and doubts about the party's current fundraising strategy and prowess.

Neal's critics often cite concerns over money, or the lack of it, raised in the last half of 2023 under his watch.

Palm Beach County fundraising data shows that, under Neal’s leadership, the party raised about $77,000 in contributions for the third and fourth quarters of last year.

That’s a drop compared to the $220,000 in contributions the party reaped in the last five months of 2022. The county GOP also posted about $125,000 in the last half of 2021 and about $383,000 in the last half of pre-pandemic 2019.

Not helping matters is a dispute with a member of the GOP executive committee that has ended up in court.

Executive committee member Anthony Ruffa filed a lawsuit against Neal and the Palm Beach County GOP in December accusing Neal of libel. In January, Neal countersued Ruffa saying the latter's legal actions caused him "emotional distress" and accused Ruffa of cyberstalking and defamation.

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GOP chairman, under fire, banking on big fundraiser this August

In his defense, Neal said the party's big annual fundraiser last August, Lobsterfeast, was successful.

He also said he expects high turnout at the Lincoln Day Gala on March 15. The evening at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate has booked U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz.

The embattled chairman said that he has set a goal to win a host of races this November.

Neal said he is focused on winning a Port of Palm Beach commission seat and retaining the majority on the county commission.

The chairman also has set his eyes on improving election results, and retaining statehouse seats. He notes Republicans have lost 70% of congressional and legislative races in Palm Beach County, where Democrats still outnumber Republican voters and where GOP candidates have had little success flipping congressional and Florida Senate and House districts long held by Democrats.

In the U.S. Congress, there are four seats covering or reaching into Palm Beach County with one held by a Republican, Brian Mast in District 21. The state Senate has four seats in or extending into the county, with just one Republican, state Sen. Gayle Harrell in District 31. There are nine Florida House seats in the county but just four represented by Republicans.

Neal has consulted with Miami-Dade County’s Republican Party to learn about strategies they have employed in elections. GOP candidates there were very successful in 2022 in Miami-Dade and the chapter in Florida's largest county has made deep inroads into the Hispanic electorate.

“They won 11 out of 12 in the midterms,” Neal said of Miami-Dade County's U.S. Congress, state Senate and state House races. "We’ve gone to them and other counties that win and are trying to do what they do.”

Stephany Matat is a politics reporter for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY-Florida network. Reach her at smatat@pbpost.com. Support local journalism: Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach County Republicans struggle to work out conflicts in 2024