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Another top African-American staffer departs RNC

Kristal Quarker-Hartsfield, the Republican National Committee's director of African-American outreach, is leaving the organization.
Donald Trump supporters join him for a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Donald Trump supporters join him for a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.

The Republican National Committee's director of African-American outreach is leaving the organization.

Kristal Quarker-Hartsfield is the highest ranking African-American at the Republican National Committee and is responsible for strategy around the African-American vote. NBCBLK has learned that Quarker-Hartsfield's last day with the RNC will be April 1.

This marks the second big departure at the Republican National Committee in the last few weeks. NBCBLK first reported the departure of Orlando Watson, the Republican National Committee's communications director for black media, who left on March 4.

A source close to Quarker-Hartsfield confirmed that she accepted a high level job with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan as his director of intergovernmental affairs.

Insiders stress that Quarker-Hartsfield's departure has more to do with a big job opportunity than dissatisfaction with the RNC. Quarker-Hartsfield is said to have enjoyed a very productive working relationship with top RNC leadership. But the loss of another top African-American staffer is significant as the GOP grapples with Donald Trump's rise, the split within the party and a growing unease around Trump's likely nomination. NBCBLK has reached out to the RNC by phone and email, but has not yet received comment.

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That there has been a mass exodus of black staff from the RNC is undeniable. Quarker-Hartsfield and Watson are two of four top African-American staffers to leave the RNC over the past year. Raffi Williams, the former RNC deputy press secretary and the son of FOX News political analyst Juan Williams, left the RNC last year for a job in media. Another African-American RNC staffer, Tara Wall, who was a strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and worked for the RNC as a senior strategist for media and engagement, left in late 2015. The sole remaining top level African-American staffer appears to be Lucas Boyce. Boyce was hired to replace Wall and is listed as the RNC's senior strategist for media and engagement on the committee's website.

One thing is for certain: With the departure of Quarker-Hartsfield, the RNC is losing a skilled and experienced political operative. Like Watson, Quarker-Hartsfield spent years on Capitol Hill and had 10 years of campaign experience. A source close to the situation says Quarker-Hartsfield was skilled in both policy and the bare-knuckle politics of the current era. The move is viewed as a big catch for Hogan's administration as well as an unexpected loss for the RNC during one of the most tumultuous political years in memory.

At the RNC, Quarker-Hartsfield created and implemented a multimillion dollar voter contact strategy. She was also responsible for hiring and training 18 staffers across the country in the battleground states in Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina.

A source familiar with her work points out that while she was director of African-American outreach, the RNC increased the black vote nationally from 5 percent to 10 percent and had historic wins in the 2014 cycle as Republicans won the majority in the U.S. Senate.

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Given the public fracture between the RNC and the Republican front-runner for the White House, Quarker-Hartsfield's job was made far more difficult than anyone could have imagined when RNC Chairman Reince Preibus announced his "autopsy report" after the GOP lost the White House for a second time to President Obama in 2012. Gov. Mitt Romney lost with minority voters by a huge margin. 

Many in the RNC remain well aware of the Republican Party's trouble reaching minority voters. The math this year is likely to be even more difficult to surmount than it was for Romney in 2012, given Trump's open antagonism to Hispanics and other minorities, not to mention women. According to recent polls, 85 percent of Hispanics view him "unfavorably."

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