The RNC Chairman's Debate (Part 2)
Matters got a little more heated when the candidates were grilled on the party's 72-hour GOTV (get-out-the-vote) effort. Steele (rhetorically) squirmed slightly, defending his own tenure, which was widely criticized for falling down on GOTV programs. He said that rather than run things from the Beltway, the RNC simply gave money to state parties. Priebus leaped at the opening, reminding the audience that GOTV was not fully funded or staffed. Others chimed in, citing their own GOTV experience and efforts. Steele asked to respond, admitting, "We didn't have a lot of volunteers from Washington" but cited 200,000 volunteers around the country. He said he really did "fully fund" GOTV; it's all a myth that he didn't get the job done.
On the potential for voter fraud, again they were all on the same page on the need to protect "voter integrity" and send out "teams of lawyers," as Wagner put it. (This might be the only context in which Republicans sing the praises of attorneys.) Priebus recounted his own efforts in suing the state to ensure the eligibility of voters; Anuzis said he did great work in Michigan. Cino said, "Me too!" ( She sent out a thousand attorneys!)
How are they going to hold the GOP officials accountable? Wagner praised the lame duck Congress for zapping the omnibus spending bill. The other challengers -- no surprise there! -- favored of spending cuts, eliminating earmarks, etc. Steele, oddly, reminded the audience that members of the House and Senate instructed him not "to do policy" and stick to politics. It wasn't clear why he brought up bad memories.
Even a video question from the college Republicans didn't shake up things. Again, they all declared their determination to welcome young people, using technology, etc. Steele said all of us will need to retire, "some sooner than others." Hmm. Well, yes.
On the lightening round, they all wanted closed primaries and a requirement for GOP candidates to return funds if they later turn around to run as independents. All said Sarah Palin can win the general election. How many guns? Ann Wagner topped the group in gun ownership -- with 16! Their heroes, aside from Ronald Reagan? Finally some differences: Cino cited Margaret Thatcher, Wagner chose John Ashcroft, Steele took Frederick Douglass, Priebus cited Abraham Lincoln. Their favorite book? Steele said, "War and Peace...the best of times and the worst of times." (Uh, wrong book.) Wagner chose the Bush memoirs. Priebus cited the Reagan Diaries.They all, no shocker, said they get their news from the Internet.
In the follow up, Steele was asked if he claimed opposition was due to racism. He denied he did. He claimed his record speaks for itself -- "We won." A slight murmur went through the room. It's the causation that is missing in that equation.
In the closing arguments the challengers all stressed their determination to work hard and focus on nuts and bolts. Steele thanked the committee for the past two years and said if they want more of the same they should vote for him. They all got polite applause.
It is hard to see how any Republican National Committee member after this debate would conclude that, by gosh, Steele's the only man for the job. However, it is equally the case that none of the challengers made much headway in distinguishing him or herself from the others. As in the past, the real politicking will be done quietly far from the C-SPAN cameras.
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