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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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 11, 2008; 7:05 AM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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Bank of America and Mr. Higgins missing $millions, It can happen to you, my fellow Americans

More info:

Posted by: srmaxhiggins | December 13, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Bank of America and Mr. Higgins missing $millions, It can happen to you, my fellow Americans

More info:

Posted by: srmaxhiggins | December 13, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Ken Blackwell has more support than you think. Not only has he been endorsed by Steve Forbes (rightly described as a fiscal conservative hero) but also by the State Republican Chairs for Louisiana and Oklahoma. Oklahoma was the only state in the nation where every country voted republican in the presidential election and for the first time in state history, Republicans won control of the state senate.

Blackwell's focus on innovative ways to connect the RNC to new voters - using things like facebook and other social media - is exactly what the RNC needs right now. Blackwell is the right person to make the RNC "relevant" to today's younger generation. At the same time, he is still a true conservative- who values fiscal responsibility, family, and faith.

Cillizza suggests that it is hard to see where Blackwell sits in the race, but from where I sit, it is clear that not only is he a front runner, but obviously the best candidate.

Posted by: Kevinmcray | December 13, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

"If Obama really did travel to Pakistan and three other countries in 1981, it was not on a US passport - so Obama should answer the question: ON WHICH COUNTRY'S PASSPORT WAS OBAMA TRAVELING IN 1981?

[The rest of this clown's quadruple-spaced incoherent rant has been omitted.]

Posted by: 37thandORules | December 11, 2008 8:11 AM"

37, you need to keep up. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the foolishly filed challenge to BHO's citizenship. In fact, the "case" only made it before the Court because of a departure from court protocol (since one justice had already rejected it). O is an American, deal with it. And since he is an American and the President-elect, he deserves your respect and cooperation not the annoyance of your daily idiotic, quadrupled spaced rants against him. The election is over. BHO won. Get over it and move on.

As for the best RNC pick of those listed, Steele is steel. Great guy. Even tempered, moderate. Gets along with Dems and repubs in the DC metro area, and around the country. Would send a strong message that the era of the Southern Strategy within the RNC is over. AND his brother-in-law is Iron Mike Tyson. How great is that? Steele-Powell 2016? Maybe?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | December 11, 2008 9:01 PM | Report abuse

"I just can't wait for the audio (video?).

Posted by: flintston | December 11, 2008 10:55 AM |"
Yeah, me too, right up there with the Michelle Obama "Whitey" video that never existed.

You guys are desperate to find something on Obama, haven't you noticed there are two wars and an economy slipping into a depression?

This nation is in crisis and if you love America you will contribute to saving it or the only legacy you and the GOP will leave is one of obstructionism.

Posted by: JRM2 | December 11, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

So many want to be in charge of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: F_L_Palmer | December 11, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

What does the corrupt Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich have to do with the reorganization of the RNC? Why associate the two together in this story? Blagojevich is another Chicago-hack democrat from Barack Obama's turf who succeeded another corrupt Illinois Governor who went to prison for corruption. Blagojevich is NOT a republican and has nothing to do with the RNC. he is a corrupt democrat!

Posted by: Supra1 | December 11, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

The whole thing is a gignatic BFD. Who cares?

Posted by: AbolhassanBaniSadr | December 11, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Interesting commentary. The GOP as a party needs to be thinking in the long term; the damage its elected officials from George W. Bush on down have inflicted on the party's reputation can't be overcome quickly, and won't be overcome by the RNC chair no matter who that is. In that position, the Republican Party would be best served by someone who can handle the nuts and bolts of political organization, able to be an honest broker among -- and honest, straightforward public commentator about -- the party's various factions.

In that connection, I'd frankly be inclined to look askance at Mike Duncan's candidacy for reelection. He reflects well the somewhat overfed, fat-faced complacency of the monied sorts who tend to be RNC commmittee members, and he'll stick to prepared talking points in interviews like a drowning man clinging to a stray piece of wood.

But Duncan won't lead anybody anywhere; he couldn't motivate a flock of Canada geese to soil a golf course. The Republican Party in Duncan's state, Kentucky, underwent a period of renewal in terms of its effectiveness as an organization while Duncan was Kentucky's national committeeman from 1999 to about 2003, but by most accounts it was the party's state chair Ellen Williams who did all the work. I haven't seen Williams' name mentioned as a potential RNC chair, and Lord knows there are good reasons not to want that job now, but she'd do a lot better than the candidates listed here -- most of whom seem to think of the party chairmanship either as some kind of personal platform or, like Duncan, as a means to raise more campaign funds but otherwise change as little as possible.

Posted by: jbritt3 | December 11, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Why? My guess is he's trying to get his slick-Willie-esque story straight, which in the end, will never work. He's already given three different answers. My second guess is he's getting his legal team lined-up to make sure he can weasel out of whatever he's gotten into with the Rod (or his wife maybe?). And how deep is Rahmbo in this one? Up to his neck no doubt..I suspect he knew full-well what the Rod was up to. I just can't wait for the audio (video?).

Posted by: flintston | December 11, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Why? My guess is because he's busy building solutions for the real problems facing the nation...

Posted by: kreuz_missile | December 11, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Obama's team has declined for two days to answer questions about what discussions they had about the seat and whether intermediaries had any contacts with Blagojevich's advisers.

Posted by: Phil6 | December 11, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Ah, another off-topic post from 37th betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of citizenship. You can't renounce someone else's citizenship. Simple as that.

I hear that tinfoil hats are the accessory to die for.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 11, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse





If Obama really did travel to Pakistan and three other countries in 1981, it was not on a US passport - so Obama should answer the question: ON WHICH COUNTRY'S PASSPORT WAS OBAMA TRAVELING IN 1981???

Clearly there was no dual citizenship between the US and Indonesia.


This situation was solved by Obama's Indonesia step-father who adopted or acknowleged him and thus has Obama become an Indonesian citizen.


This presents many problems.

The Supreme Court has to look at this. The national media has the obligation to research this and get all the facts out, no matter how painful they may be for the latte liberals.

The nation has to come to terms with the possibility that Obama may be an illegal alien who has been living here without the proper visas.

Review Obama's employment history - it appears to be lacking in major corporations which would have a human resource department which would look into visas and citizenship issues - INSTEAD Obama's employment history is filled with companies which might overlook their obligations to check on the immigration status of all its employees at hiring.





Posted by: 37thandORules | December 11, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse





Obviously the best way to settle this is Prime-Time Mud Wrestling - including competition pitting the wives against each other - the ratings would be through the roof - all the interest groups pro-life, anit-tax, pro-war could have commercial time.





Posted by: 37thandORules | December 11, 2008 8:11 AM | Report abuse

The hardball campaigning for the chair can't help the GOP. They needed a silent directional shift like the one the Dems went through after '04.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | December 11, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Because our Government runs better with loyal opposition, it is important that the Republican Party reestablish itself along their long held positions of fiscal responsibility and smaller government.

Clearly the Neo-Con phase is passing,and not soon enough for most Americans. When the conservative center retakes control from the far right we will see better legislative efforts, because they won't have to pass some artifical religious litmus test.

Posted by: Thatsnuts | December 11, 2008 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Which of these men is most likely to nudge the Rs toward the center - or to expand the tent? Which of these Rs is an effective spokesman? Which of these Rs is an effective fundraiser? Who has all three credentials?

I do not think it matters whether the chair is from a state that went D unless it was somehow his fault.

I use the mail pronoun b/c I completely discount Tina as a choice.

Haley Barbour might serve as a model, btw.
While no centrist, I think he is a fan of the big tent.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 11, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Spare us Steele.

The outreach to minorities is important; but he is hardly the one.

What's more: take note of his wishy-washy position on "choice" and his lack of record on other important issues (Lt. Guv of MD doesn't do anything but smile.)

What's more, the minority group the GOP should be courting is the Hispanic. What possible benefit is he there?

At the end of the day, this party needs to understand that a centrist white should not be viewed as an embarassment. He or she is the closest thing to the average American voter.

Posted by: jayjay9 | December 11, 2008 7:31 AM | Report abuse

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