'Big Three' Still Control Race for RNC Chairman

The Great Mentioner says Ronald Reagan’s eldest son Michael (now a talk show host)  could be a dark horse candidate for Republican National Chairman.  A trusted friend of OMB Director Jim Nussle (and someone I trust without hesitation) swears that the former Iowa congressman is “8.5” on a scale of 10 to run for the chairmanship at the January 23-24 meeting of the Republican National Committee.

Swell.  I’ve known both Reagan and Nussle for many years and think either would be an outstanding RNC chieftain.  But with all due respect to the Great Mentioner and my trusted FON (Friend of Nussle), because neither is out on the hustings now, I would simply say forget it.  It won’t happen.  Having covered heated contests for the chairmanship right after two presidential defeats for the Republican Party (1993 and ’97), I can say from experience that races for the RNC chair are battle-royals that consume all the time of the major contestants.  In addition, tradition favors someone being elected chairman from the inside — either a past or current state chairman or national committee member — of the 168-person RNC.

That is why, two months before the chairman is elected, the three front-runners appear to be State Chairmen Saul Anuzis of Michigan and Katon Dawson of South Carolina and former Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele of Maryland, himself a former state party chairman in the Free State.  All are announced contenders for the party post, all are on the campaign trail, and all are actively cultivating the media.  Anuzis dropped by to talk to HUMAN EVENTS after interviews with Fox News and the BBC.  Dawson came to see us earlier and hosted an event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina November 15-16 that included fellow RNC members as well as members of the national press.  Steele gave a much-discussed interview with National Public Radio, in which he specifically mentioned a desire to work with the Log Cabin Republican Club and said Newt Gingrich was supporting his candidacy for chairman (a spokesman for the former House Speaker later told NPR he had several friends in the race and was backing no one).

Anuzis and Dawson both talked about the Republican Party recapturing its conservative roots and reaching out to blue collar and younger voters.  Both have long histories of outreach to minorities (Michigan and South Carolina elected African-Americans as Republican National Committeeman, in both cases with support from the state chairmen) and emphasize the need for the party to refurbish its “nuts and bolts” at the county and local level.

“And I was a member of the RNC,” Tennessee businessman Chip Salsman, a fourth candidate in the race, said, gently reminding me that he was once the youngest (30) state Republican chairman in the nation.  Salsman, the top fund-raiser for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee (“although that campaign does not define completely who I am”) is running as a fresh face “with a lot of energy and a history of winning.”  Salsman recalled how when he was state chairman, George W. Bush carried Tennessee over favorite son Al Gore and “if that didn’t happen, Florida and the chads would not have mattered.”

The holder of an MBA who specializes in buying small companies and building them up, Salsman says the party needs a chairman with experience outside politics and the knowledge that “politics isn’t about process and isn’t about the Beltway.”  His goal is a party “that reaches out to everyone.  We have the same message of hope and opportunity, but we just haven’t been able to communicate it well.”

Rounding out the field are incumbent Chairman Mike Duncan — hampered because he was George W. Bush’s choice — and Florida State Chairman Jim Greer, the close political ally of that state’s Gov. Charles Crist.

My guess: the chairmanship will go to one of the top three.