Exeter, New Hampshire (CNN) – Top GOP officials in New Hampshire are ratcheting up the pressure on defiant state Republican Party Chairman Jack Kimball after he refused to step down from his post Thursday.
Hours after Kimball announced during a press conference he would not resign, members of the congressional delegation joined leaders in the state house in publicly calling on Kimball to step aside, implying in a statement they have the votes needed to force the chairman out if necessary.
"To ensure that all of the party's energy and resources are solely focused on electing Republicans, we believe it is time to move beyond this serious distraction," said the statement from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Reps Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, state House Speaker William O'Brien, and state Senate President Peter Bragdon. "Therefore, we call upon Jack to put the best interests of New Hampshire Republicans first and step aside as chairman of the party."
The statement said 22 members of the party's executive board had signed a letter "indicating their desire to vote for new leadership." Nineteen votes are needed to oust Kimball.
The embattled party chairman and tea party favorite held firm against growing opposition Thursday, telling members of the media he would fight "the establishment" forces determined to flush him from office.
"Those who seek to remove me from my duly elected position must recognize that I represent a movement – a political moment – much larger than myself," he said, according to planned remarks. "I plead with them not to pick this fight. It will only damage the party and cause unnecessary division."
The opposition to Kimball began as a whisper campaign and in recent days has become increasingly vocal, after a series of disappointing special election results and as reports of intra-party fighting and poor fundraising numbers became public.
The next step for Kimball's opposition would be to hold a vote at the party's special meeting Sept. 1.