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Transition in Party Leadership...

Jan. 30, 2009--"Now it's time to get to work.  We've got a party to build."  On the sixth
ballot, members of the Republican National Committee elected
former Maryland Lt. Gov.
Michael Steele as national chairman.  more

Republicans, having been bruised in two successive elections, scrambled to find ideas and leaders to move the party ahead. 
On Nov. 11 the Republican National Committee launched a "Republican for a Reason" website "to hear what our volunteers, activists, elected leaders, and party members think about the Republican Party as we rebuild, re-focus, and renew our bond with the American people."  In some ways, the RNC was in a position similar to where the DNC found itself following the 2004 campaign >, although a number of analysts pointed to trends, particularly in the youth vote and Latino vote, to suggest that the GOP may face a stiffer challenge in regaining power. 

The 168 members of the RNC selected the party's chairman at its Winter Meeting in Washington, DC from Jan. 28-31, 2009.  Six candidates campaigned for the post.  They emphasized a return to basic principles and a need to upgrade the party's infrastructure and approach in a number of areas.  In addition to the candidates' experience, vision and abilities in communicating their ideas, some members favored electing a chairman from within the RNC membership.

Although the 168 RNC members decided the chairmanship, there was widespread interest among Republican activists.  Just two days after the Nov. 4 elections, a coalition of Republican activists launched the "Rebuild the Party" effort, which placed a strong focus on the Internet "
as a starting point for our way out of the wilderness."  "Winning the technology war with the Democrats must be the RNC's number one priority in the next four years," the plan states.  On Nov. 24, Morton Blackwell, the veteran RNC committeeman from Virginia, presented the candidates with a 37-question survey; all six responded.  Americans for Tax Reform hosted a debate with the six candidates on Jan. 5, 2009.  An ad hoc conservative steering committee, consisting of about half of the members of the RNC, interviewed the candidates on Jan. 6.  North Dakota Republican Chairman Gary Emineth successfully petitioned for an extremely rare special meeting of the RNC; about 55 members showed up for this event on Jan. 7, during which the candidates made five-minute statements and there was half an hour of questioning. 

As the members of the RNC gathered for the Winter Meeting at the end of January, Mike Duncan, the incumbent chairman, appeared to be leading but short of a majority, and it seemed likely that the vote might extend into multiple rounds, as it had in 1997 and 1993.  The field narrowed slightly when Chip Saltsman did not file by the Jan. 29 deadline.  Members had a final chance to hear from the candidates on the evening of Jan. 29, and the vote was set for Jan. 30.
Blueprint for A GOP Comeback
Saul Anuzis
Conservative Resurgence Plan
Ken Blackwell
The Dawson Plan
Katon Dawson
Plan for the Future
Mike Duncan
Blueprint for Tomorrow
Michael Steele

Plan for Victory
Chip Saltsman

The current chairman, Mike Duncan of Kentucky, was elected on Jan. 20, 2007 and announced on Dec. 10, 2008 that he is seeking to continue in his position.  Despite Republican losses in 2008, Duncan points to a number of accomplishments and actions during his tenure.  Shortly after the election, on Nov. 13, the RNC filed a lawsuit challenging several campaign finance restrictions imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. >  Duncan notes that the RNC raised record amounts of money during the 2008 campaign, and he points to Sen. Saxby Chambliss' win in the Dec. 2 runoff in Georgia and Anh "Joseph" Cao's surprise upset over scandal-tarred Rep. Bill Jefferson (D) in the 2nd CD of Louisiana as encouraging signs.  Duncan also launched a Center for Republican Renewal at the RNC to help the party reclaim the mantle of the "party of ideas."  Duncan has announced a ten-point plan for moving the party forward. 

Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis, who describes himself as "an unabashed Reagan-conservative," was first to launch his bid, on Nov. 12, under the slogan "the comeback starts now!"  Anuzis calls for "getting back to basics and taking our message to America: person by person, county by county, state by state, and issue by issue, as we reintroduce ourselves to the voters of America."  His website notes that he rides a Harley Road King.  "But he leaves the Harley home when he's campaigning so he can Twitter, blog and blackberry on the road," the site states.  On Dec. 15 Anuzis issued a detailed "Blueprint for a GOP Comeback." (see also letter)

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was a relatively late entrant into the race, announcing his candidacy in a Dec. 5 letter to RNC Members.  "At a time when the Republican National Committee needs comprehensive reorganization and a completely new direction, all of the announced candidates for Chairman have basically proposed continuing the status quo with a few cosmetic changes," Blackwell wrote.  He stated that he will be proposing an “'RNC Conservative Resurgence Plan' that will be a dramatic overhaul of the way the RNC does business."  On Dec. 16 Blackwell announced he is running as a team with Tina Benkiser, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, for RNC co-chair.  Blackwell called for a "shareholders' revolt" and presented his ideas in a "Conservative Resurgence Plan."  He also lined up an impressive number of conservative endorsements.

South Carolina Republican chairman Katon Dawson is the fourth-longest serving GOP chairman in the country and his bid emphasizes the successes the party has had in the Palmetto State under his leadership.  Dawson has issued a seven-page plan ("The Dawson Plan") in which he discusses where the party went wrong, what it will take to correct the situation, and why he is uniquely qualified to lead the RNC.  One element of Dawson's Plan which has drawn attention is Project 3141, "a new political strategy to make the GOP present and active in every county of our country."  Dawson has been active in Republican politics for over 40 years; according to his website, "On Halloween night 1964, Dawson was just 8 years old when his mother drove him to the downtown auditorium in Columbia, South Carolina, to hear Ronald Reagan stump for Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona."  The fact that Dawson was member of a whites-only country club until Fall 2007 weighs against him.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who also a former state chairman and is now chair of GOPAC, announced his bid on Nov. 13.  Steele's website says the party "must become a movement that seeks nothing less than transformation."  It states, "We need to earn back the trust of the American people.  We need to reclaim the future by adhering to our timeless principles.  We need to pick ourselves up and once again become champions of optimism, innovation and empowerment."  Steele outlines his vision for the party in his "Blueprint for Tomorrow." (1, 2)

Former Tennessee Republican chair Chip Saltsman actively campaigned for the position but ultimately did not file.  Saltsman, who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign, put forth a detailed "Plan for Victory" which envisaged "rededicating the Republican Party, regaining the American voter’s trust, and setting the stage for a dramatic turnaround."  Saltsman's plan listed six main points (i) no despair, no recrimination, (ii) strengthen our state parties, (iii) invest in new technologies to reinvigorate party efforts, (iv) implement outreach programs to expand party base, (v) new and creative fundraising efforts, and (vi) create 'watchdog' to monitor liberal actions. (1, 2)  Saltsman's bid received unfavorable attention when he mailed a Christmas greeting to members that had a CD with Paul Shanklin parodies including "Barack the Magic Negro."

Others mentioned early on included Jim Greer, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, former Sen. and presidential candidate Fred Thompson (TN), OMB director and former U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle (IA), Sen. John E. Sununu (NH), recently defeated in his bid for re-election, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
(RNC site launched Nov. 11)
[by Mark inactive]
old site...not in the race

On Capitol Hill, in the House, the second- and third-ranking Republicans, Reps. Roy Blunt (MO) and Adam Putnam (FL), announced shortly after the Nov. 4 elections that they would step down from their leadership positions.  In leadership elections on Nov. 19, Republican leader Rep. John Boehner (OH) fended of a longshot challenge from Rep. Dan Lungren (CA) >, while Reps. Eric Cantor (VA) and Mike Pence (IN) were elected to the number two and three positions.  NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Cole (OK) withdrew his bid to continue, and Rep. Pete Sessions (TX) was elected to succeed him.  Sen. John Cornyn (TX) succeeded Sen John Ensign (NV) at the NRSC, and Gov. Mark Sanford (SC) succeeded Gov. Rick Perry (TX) at the RGA.

Democrats continued under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) in the House and Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) in the Senate, but there were a few changes.  In the House, the fourth-ranking position on the Democratic side, Caucus chairman, opened due to President-Elect Obama's selection of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (IL) as his chief of staff; Rep. John B. Larson (CT) was promoted in leadership elections on Nov. 18.  On Nov. 20 the Democratic Caucus voted to replace House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell (MI), who had held the lead post for over two decades, with Rep. Henry Waxman (CA).  In the Senate, Sen. Harry Byrd (WV), at 90 years old, announced he would step aside as chair of the Appropriations Committee. 

At the Democratic party committees, DNC chairman Howard Dean indicated he would not seek a second term, clearing the way for President-elect Obama to install his own person.  On Jan. 8, 2009 Obama announced that Gov. Tim Kaine (VA) would take on that role.  Kaine's selection was ratified by DNC at its Winter Meeting on Jan. 21; he will serve part-time until he finishes his term in Jan. 2010.  Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD) continues as chair of the DCCC, while Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ) took over from Sen. Charles Schumer (NY) as chair of the DSCC.

Copyright © 2008, 2009  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action