RNC Field Sorts Itself Out
Although Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest is blotting out the sun in the political world, there has been a series of developments worth noting in the race to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Three new candidates joined the race in recent days: current chair Mike Duncan, former Tennessee state party chairman Chip Saltsman and former Ohio Secretary of State (and 2006 gubernatorial candidate) Ken Blackwell.
The entries of Duncan and Saltsman were expected -- both men had been making calls and visiting with the 168 committeemen and women that will choose the next chairman in late January for weeks.
Blackwell's decision to get into the race is somewhat unexpected and its impact on the field remains unclear at the moment.
Blackwell sought to make news right out of the gate, announcing that former two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes (a hero to fiscal conservatives) would serve as the honorary chairman of his RNC bid; "Simply put, Ken will affect Washington," wrote Forbes in a memo touting Blackwell's candidacy. "It will not affect him. It never has."
Blackwell also picked up the endorsement of longtime Michigan RNC committeeman (and one-time RNC chair candidate) Chuck Yob. Yob announced today that he would not be a candidate and touted Blackwell as "a strong conservative who knows how to win elections as a candidate." (Yob's endorsement of Blackwell may also have to do with his long-running rivalry with Michigan state GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, who is also a candidate for the RNC chairmanship.)
Our sense of the field -- having chatted with a variety of sources aligned and unaligned with particular candidates -- is that the top tier today is comprised of Duncan, former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele and Anuzis, who has worked himself into a solid position thanks to an aggressive effort to lock in votes publicly.
The full handicapping is below (separated by tiers, alphabetical within the tiers):
• Saul Anuzis: Anuzis is, without question, the most aggressive of the three top tier candidates in making sure people like The Fix know what he is doing in terms of the contest. Anuzis is the only candidate to publicly announce supporters (he has 10 committee men and women in the fold) -- an attempt to show that he is ready to play with the big boys. Anuzis paints himself as the one in the field best able to understand the worries of the Reagan Democrats who the GOP has lost in recent years and desperately needs back in 2010 and beyond. Anuzis' problem? Michigan was a killing field for Republicans in 2008; John McCain lost the state badly and Reps. Tim Wahlberg and Joe Knollenberg were both defeated for reelection.
• Mike Duncan: Duncan has had a very good few weeks -- starting with Sen. Saxby Chambliss' victory in the Georgia runoff and continuing through the Louisiana elections and into this week where he has emerged as a leading critic of Blagojevich and President-elect Barack Obama. Duncan is not the most tv-friendly -- check out the video he released announcing his candidacy -- but he is regarded by the committee members as of one them, a critical distinction in a race with such a small universe of voters.
• Michael Steele: Steele is the biggest lightning rod in the race; some people believe he is the frontrunner, others call him a paper tiger -- insisting that he is having trouble lining up support among the committee voters. Steele's biggest advantages are his semi-celebrity (thanks to his role as a Fox News Channel contributor) and the fact that, as an African American, he represents a symbolic and literal break with the past.
• Ken Blackwell: It's tough to know where Blackwell fits in since he is something of a late arrival in the race. He is a national figure among social conservatives and, as an African American, can make a case that he is the sort of new face the party needs as its spokesman. Blackwell's 2006 gubernatorial race was widely panned (he only got 37 percent of the vote) and it's not clear just how deep his support will go in this contest.
• Katon Dawson: Dawson, the chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, has been running for the RNC job for quite some time. Dawson's argument is that he has built a strong and well financed state party that has led to a series of gains on the state and federal level over the past few cycles. The argument against him? It's easy to succeed in a state as strongly tilted toward Republicans as South Carolina. The other problem for Dawson is the controversy over his membership in all-white country club. Dawson and his surrogates insist the story is being taken out of context, but regardless, it looks bad -- plain and simple.
• Chip Saltsman: Saltsman rose to national prominence as the campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential bid earlier this year but prior to that served as stint as the Tennessee Republican Party Chairman. Saltsman has both Huckabee and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) on his side in the RNC race but it remains to be seen whether he can catapult himself into the top tier over the next month or so.
• Tina Benkiser: The chair of the Texas Republican Party is always mentioned in stories about potential candidates but has not gained any traction as far as we can tell.
• Jim Greer: Greer, the Florida state party chair, has been Hamlet-like in the race -- rarely professing any deep interest in running. At this point, it's probably too late even if he wants to get in.
• Jim Nussle: The head of the Office of Management and Budget, Nussle is interested in the contest but the idea of him as chair does not appear to be catching on.
December 11, 2008; 7:05 AM ET
Categories: Republican Party
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