As for running in the Jan. 25 chairman’s election at the committee’s winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C., Willis is certainly a long shot as Priebus appears to have the election already locked up.
Sources inside the committee tell TheDC that Priebus already has commitments from nearly 150 members. There are 168 Members on the RNC, and 85 votes are needed to win.
Under party rules, Willis needs two committee members from at least three states to even be nominated, and it’s not clear yet if he’ll reach that threshold.
The 43-year-old acknowledged his long-shot odds in a Thursday interview, but said he’s doing everything he can to earn support between now and next week. “I’m pushing forward into Charlotte next week and I’m talking to a lot of RNC members around the country,” he said.
Willis lives on a 20-acre coastal farm in Dennysville, Maine with his family and raises Icelandic sheep, heritage turkeys, chickens and ducks. He’s a former counter-intelligence agent with the U.S Army and has a law degree from George Mason University.
He said he was approached to run for chairman “a couple weeks ago” by “some folks from the grassroots in Maine.”
“After the election in November, with the bad results that came about, I figured somebody would step up and run against Mr. Priebus,” Willis said.
This race isn’t the first time he’s challenged the establishment at the RNC: Willis, a former Paul delegate to the RNC chairman, led a memorable walk out during the national convention in Tampa of furious Maine delegates in protest over the national party’s refusal to seat 10 delegates from the state who pledged support to Paul.
“I was one of the 10 that was cut,” he said.
That experience is fresh in his mind as he campaigns against Priebus.
“Reince Priebus oversaw the convention and allowed the rule changes to happen that cut the grassroots out in 2016 unless they are changed,” Willis said.
“After the elections in November and the disappointing results, most leaders at the top of an organization with that type of track record probably most likely wouldn’t run again,” he said of Priebus.
Willis said if elected, he would bring a “fresh, innovative approach” and offer “solutions that I believe are timely and vital to restoring good faith and success in the Republican Party.”
Among his promises: Willis said he would get rid of RNC consultants.
“This is a sentiment – not just of Mark Willis, but this a sentiment of people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and a lot of people from the grassroots as well – saying these consultants are getting paid millions of dollars and they’re over promising and under delivering,” he said.