As the RNC gears up for the ’09 Winter Meeting in which a Chairman and Co-Chairman will be elected, RNC Members must ask themselves which type of leader they prefer. Do they want a high-profile spokesperson? Do they want a behind-the-scenes party-builder? Do they want a successful fundraiser? Right now, the GOP needs all three. Electing a Chairman from inside the ranks of the RNC could mean the lack of the kind of high-profile presence that is essential if we want our message to be heard. But does a candidate who is not a member of the RNC have a chance? Regardless of the candidate’s background, the ability to communicate effectively should be the number one requirement in an RNC Chairman.
Current Chairman Mike Duncan’s philosophy has been one of quietly working behind the scenes. Some RNC Members tell me he is the odds-on favorite. Duncan started out as the National Committeeman from Kentucky, and has also served as RNC Treasurer and General Counsel. Chairman Duncan has stated that with a Republican President in the White House, the RNC Chair’s role was not to be the principal spokesman for the party. (See Keep Mike Duncan website.) He did a wonderful job of raising money and thus the RNC was able to assist the McCain campaign. Now that a Democrat has been elected President, along with a Democratic Congress, do we want a party leader who presided over those defeats? More importantly, shouldn’t voters actually recognize the Chairman of the RNC? Most Republican voters could not pick Mike Duncan out of a lineup. Unlike DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Duncan is still relatively unknown. (See Bio)
South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson is a southern gentleman who is very ambitious, and who seems to have conservative principles. He has been successful in South Carolina in electing Republicans and in fundraising. Some view the fact that he is from the South as a problem. They feel that we need to distance from the notion that the GOP is only viable in the South. The fact that Chairman Dawson belonged to an exclusive “all-white” country club until last August is a problem. If Dawson were elected, the press would no doubt have a field day. As for communication, he seems to have been the first to publicly respond to the breaking scandal involving Illinois Governor Blagojevich: See Katon Dawson Statement. (See Dawson Bio.)
Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis has my admiration for this fact: During my eight-year tenure on the RNC, very few Members ever spoke out on issues. After all, the RNC does not make policy; they work to elect Republicans. Chairman Anuzis has sent out emails and communicated with the RNC on issues such as the bailout (he was against it) and he is not afraid to take a stand. That is a big plus. (See Anuzis in the News.) Unfortunately, Republicans have lost ground in Michigan during Chairman Anuzis’ tenure. (See Anuzis Bio.)
GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele has the advantage of being a familiar face, well-known in media circles, well-spoken, and African American. He is pro-life, but some RNC Members are trying to sink his candidacy because he belonged to a group which included pro-choice members. I personally supported Michael Steele back when the RNC elected Senator Mel Martinez, and I believe he would be the kind of high-profile face for the GOP that is needed in this political climate. (See Bio.)
Kenneth Blackwell is a very interesting candidate. He seems to also have the name recognition and media presence that would help promote the GOP; he also is African American; and he also is conservative in principle. He may be a very good choice. Although Blackwell is not a current RNC Member, he did serve as Vice Chair of the RNC Platform Committee. You can read some of his columns from Townhall.com here: Blackwell columns. (See Bio.)
Chip Saltsman, who was Governor Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager, would no doubt be a conservative standard-bearer; he is not as well-known to voters at large, but he is a former RNC member. As Chairman of the Republican Party of Tennessee, he opposed his own Governor, Don Sundquist, when the Governor proposed a state income tax. He is associated so closely with Governor Huckabee that it could create problems if he is perceived to be working to position Huckabee for future election. (See website.)
Tina Benkiser, Texas State Chairman, is another candidate for RNC Chairman. She is a strong conservative, and insiders say that because she is the only woman running that she may be in line to become Co-Chair. Like Anuzis in Michigan, the Republican Party of Texas has steadily lost legislative seats since Chairman Benkiser’s election in ’03. Texas now holds a tenuous 76-74 majority in our State House. (See Bio.) Benkiser touts the Republican gains at the county level as an indicator of her success in Texas, although Republicans were virtually wiped out in both Dallas and Harris Counties in the November election. According to the Washington Times, Benkiser plans to retain her Texas State Chairmanship if elected as RNC Co-Chair. (See Article.)
Other potential candidates include Florida Chairman Jim Greer (See Article), former Michigan National Committeeman Chuck Yob, and Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle.
So the question remains: What kind of RNC Chair do we need? The only votes that matter are those of the 168 RNC Members. All eyes will be on the RNC in January. It will be a fascinating election, and its outcome will determine the future of the GOP.
© Denise K. McNamara 2008