Gizzi on Politics: June 30-July4

Party Time

With the Republican National Convention only two months away, there have been some changes in the membership of the Republican National Committee across the country. Last month, South Carolina Republicans made history when they elected Glenn McCall as the only Republican National Committeeman from the South who is African-American, and only the second African-American on the current RNC. In Virginia, the recent Republican State Convention resoundingly elected State Delegate Jeff Frederick as party chairman.  Half-Columbian, Frederick is, at 32, the youngest state GOP chairman in the nation. 
Here’s a closer look at these two new RNC members, who both seem certain to be heard from nationally before long:

McCall: “Let’s Get Back to Basic Coke in the Can”

In interviewing Glenn McCall, South Carolina’s newly elected Republican National Committeeman, the first question I wanted to ask only the second African-American RNC member seemed obvious: What does he think of Barack Obama?

“Oh, I’m proud, all right — no question about it,” said McCall, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and Bank of America vice president. “To see a Barack Obama nomination is to see an America moving behind race. And I’m glad we are getting past that. There were times I couldn’t say that about the Democrats, since I felt they took black voters for granted.” 

Glenn McCall’s matter-of-fact assessment of the Democratic Party and its nominee is not unlike his admonition to his own party on getting back on its feet: Be direct, stand for something, but don’t have a mean message or point fingers. Along with South Carolina’s state GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, McCall is increasingly perceived as a voice for Southern conservatives on the RNC. Along with Keith Butler, a Detroit pastor and the other African-American RNC member, McCall is increasingly mentioned for a major speaking role or committee assignment at the convention that will nominate John McCain just before Labor Day. 

McCall and Dawson spoke to me in a joint interview recently.

“We need to look forward by getting back to conservative values,” insists Dawson, saying that “our party had something that worked up until ’06. Then the route salesman changed and Democrats won Congress and are ready to give us a $700 billion tax  increase when the Bush tax cuts expire.” 

York County party leader McCall feels his task and that of other high-profile Republican officials is to be the new “route salesmen” for what Dawson calls “the classic Coca-Cola we want back, namely a Republican Party that’s conservative. Let’s get basic Coke back in the can!”

McCall’s vision of a party is one that is “strong on the war, knows how to restimulate the economy, and stop out-of-control spending.” He also believes that cultural conservatism is “a critical element of the Republican Party,” that “laws that protect the unborn” and opposition to the recent California gay marriage ruling “should reinforce who we are — and it’s who we are, a conservative party, that sells.” 

As for those who are not pro-life or are uncomfortable with the social agenda, but like the smaller government message of the GOP, McCall says: “They are part of who we are. We want them — as long as they understand our platform on abortion and similar issues. That platform is part of who we are.” 

Frederick: “We’re Tired of Top Down!”

Musing that part of his legacy in a political career spanning nearly fifty years was a young George W. Bush out of Yale to help on what turned out to be the winning Senate race of conservative Republican Ed Gurney of Florida back in 1968, James L. Martin — then Gurney’s top aide and now head of the 60 Plus Seniors Association — said: “Another significant ‘hire’ was Amy Noon eight years ago. But after I introduced my good right hand Amy to Jeff Frederick you could add match-maker to my portfolio.” 

Sure enough, Amy Noone quickly became Amy Noone Frederick and the couple have one child and another on the way. The Fredericks were a dynamic political team in Jeff’s first winning race for the Virginia House of Delegates and Amy was a major asset to her husband’s dramatic capture of the state Republican chairmanship in Virginia last month. 

Noting how he and his wife personally spoke to and corresponded with small groups among the 5,000-plus delegates to the state convention in Richmond, Frederick told me: “We had a simple message: We are sick and tired of being told what to do from the top down. As chairman, I would listen to the grass-roots. And what they were saying is that we, as a party, can’t keep doing the same thing. When government spending is a big issue, Republicans in Richmond who control one house of the state legislature can’t keep spending like drunken sailors.” 

Frederick’s message and youthful zeal resonated with the delegates. He was leading incumbent State Chairman John Hager 2-1 during the convention balloting. Before the results were announced, Hager graciously moved that Frederick’s election be made unanimous.” 

Any GOP party chairman in Virginia has to grapple with the issue of whether, as is the case more often than not, conventions choose the candidates or, as it has done on occasion, the party holds a statewide primary. 

“Conventions are just fine,” said Frederick, viewing the gathering of elected delegates as “an opportunity to see democracy in action.” While agreeing that primaries would open up the process to more people, the new party leader said, “There is a major problem in doing so and that is that anyone can vote. So you would have people whose leanings are Democratic and independent choosing Republican nominees. Now, if we had party registration here, I would be all in favor of primaries. But until we have it, the convention is the best mechanism for Republicans’ choosing Republican nominees.” 

Looking Ahead — Confidently

Looking toward the ’08 elections in the Old Dominion, Frederick brims with optimism. For all of the reports in the Washington Post and other liberal outlets about Barack Obama’s taking the state’s 13 electoral votes, Frederick is confident of a smashing McCain win.

“Virginia is a lot of things, but it’s not a liberal state,” said Frederick. “John McCain is a fiscal hawk, and that’s a popular stand here, and a genuine war hero in a state with 800,000 veterans.” 

At a time when virtually all polls show former Democratic Gov. (2001-05) Mark Warner with a double-digit lead over former Republican Gov. (1997-2001) Jim Gilmore in the race for the U.S. Senate, Frederick admits that “Jim has to run a flawless campaign.” But, he quickly added, “He can win if the race focuses on taxes. Mark Warner left us stuck with the largest tax increase in state history, while Jim Gilmore gave us the largest tax cut in history when he oversaw the cutting of the car tax by two-thirds.” 

Of the 11th U.S. House District in Northern Virginia that seven-term Republican Tom Davis is retiring from, Frederick feels it is “not going to be easy, but it’ certainly possible” for businessman Keith Fimian to overcome Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald B. Connolly and keep the district in Republican hands. 

Conceding that his party has been ravaged by its losses in two successive gubernatorial races and in last year’s U.S. Senate race, Frederick said his two top priorities as party chairman are “shaking all the trees for money and communicating effectively.”