Opinion: Republican National Committee holds special D.C. session today

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Having lost both houses of Congress in two consecutive elections and now the big house -- the white one down Pennsylvania Avenue -- Republican National Committee members gather in a crucial special session this morning on Capitol Hill to ponder the devastation and hear talk about the future.

All six candidates for chairman will speak, along with those seeking other party offices during the regular RNC meeting at the end of this month. But the race to head the party and begin the rebuilding process was so urgent that this special session was recently added.

While the Democrats and President-elect Barack Obama prepare for Jan. 20 to party like it’s 2009, about eight-score GOP national committee members will quietly assemble next to party headquarters to hear Sal Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman; Katon Dawson, the South Carolina state chairman; and Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state, an African American favored by conservatives.

Also speaking will be another African American, Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who stresses the need to broaden the party’s reach, plus current chairman Mike Duncan, who shoulders some blame for the most recent loss, and Chip Saltsman, who ran Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful GOP presidential campaign last year.

As The Ticket reported the other day, Democrats have already picked a new chairman.


Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, an Obama favorite, will be a part-timer until he’s forced out of state office by the commonwealth’s one-term limit next year. But many of the political operations of a party holding the White House are directed from there, just as the chairman is handpicked by the new president.

As the out party, the Republicans could face a divisive free-for-all as six men jockey for the top job, as daunting as the reconstruction work might seem. Committee members have been reminding each other in e-mails in recent days that it was just four years from the landslide Republican Goldwater loss of 1964 to the two-term Nixon-Ford presidency.

And only 48 months after that little-known Democratic governor, Jimmy Carter, was victorious over incumbent Gerald Ford and the Watergate-ridden Republicans in 1976, Ronald Reagan began a three-term GOP White House rule. Reagan, however, was waiting in the wings after the Ford loss and, despite some competition from George H.W. Bush, had four years as heir apparent in a party that prefers heirs apparent.

Although at this moment the Republicans’ next presidential candidate is expected to emerge from the ranks of its 21 surviving governors, there is a distinct leadership void, with none having much national identity. A strong, active national party chair could fill that vacuum as the public face of the GOP.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who resigned after midterm losses in 1998 but retains a following among the conservative base, has also shown an inclination to step into the void in recent weeks, with ideas and numerous public and media appearances.

--Andrew Malcolm

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