The current Republican National Committee Chairman defended his losing record in the 2008 presidential election and promised RNC members that if they would re-elect him to the post that he would bring “change” to the GOP.
“I am proud of the accomplishments we had in that campaign,” Chairman Robert “Mike” Duncan told a roomful of party activists at the first-ever debate held for the high-ranking GOP post.
All of the candidates had some kind of campaign material to distribute, but Duncan’s was by far the most comprehensive and probably, most expensive. His 20-page, glossy pamphlet touted the $400 million he helped raise during the last election cycle from 1.9 million donors and the 12-million strong email list compiled during his tenure.
While Duncan may be influential among RNC members, he’s certainly not the favorite among those outside the party rank and file. The race has been closely watched by grassroots activists, who are feeling anti-establishment after suffering devastating national losses in the last two elections.
A substantial number of those attending the event were openly supporting GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele, wearing large “Steele for Chairman” stickers and carrying signs.
“All that noise about the party dying, at death’s door, that’s bunk,” Steele said. The visible support for his candidacy in the room was indicative of his statement.
The other men running for the post include Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Mike Huckabee presidential Campaign Manager Chip Saltsman and South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson.
The new chairman will be chosen by the RNC’s 168 members at the GOP’s Winter Meeting at the end of the month. Americans for Tax Reform convened all of the candidates at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Monday afternoon. In recent years, the position has been essentially appointed by President Bush, eliminating the need for a public forum for the candidates--which is how Duncan became RNC Chairman in January 2007.
Without naming Duncan specifically, Blackwell negatively described the RNC as “an appendage to the White House" at one point during the debate.
This was the closest any of thee candidates came to directly criticizing the Chairman. Rather, his opponents seemed to veer away from the subject instead choosing to opine about “getting back to principles” and playing up their individual records. Dawson, from a southern ruby-red state, bragged about electing Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, prompting another slight jab Ohio’s Blackwell.
“We all know how hard it is to win elections in that swing state of South Carolina,” Blackwell, considered a favorite among Beltway conservatives, added sarcastically giving Dawson a good nudge.
While no one seemed to willing to hold Duncan accountable Michigan’s Anuzis emphasized the need, and his ability, to hold other Republicans accountable on critical battles by making sure his state Republicans opposed tax increases on a party-line. “We can’t be afraid to stand up,” he said.
Oddly enough, it was Duncan himself who spoke most frankly about this.
“I understand the difference between when we have a White House and when we don’t have a White House,” he said. In his closing statements, Duncan promised he was the “best positioned on Day One…to hold accountable the RNC.”