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RNC asks Steele to replace Mehlman

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, whose party just lost both chambers of Congress, will leave his position in January, and the post as party chief has been offered to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

"It is true," Mr. Mehlman told The Washington Times when asked about reports last night that he would resign. "It's something I decided over the summer. No one told me I needed to. In fact, folks wanted me to stay."

Mr. Mehlman said he "told the White House over the summer it was my decision" to leave the RNC post, "win, lose or draw."

Also last night, Republican officials told The Times that Mr. Steele, who lost his bid for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, has been sought out to succeed Mr. Mehlman as national party chairman. Those Republican officials said Mr. Steele had not made a decision whether to take the post, as of last night.

Other Republican Party officials said some Republican National Committee (RNC) members, including state party chairmen, have mounted a move to have Mr. Steele succeed Mr. Mehlman.

But they said that President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove, who is Mr. Mehlman's mentor, would rather see Mr. Steele serve in the president's Cabinet, perhaps as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. These officials said no one has actually offered Mr. Steele either the RNC post or a Cabinet post.

Steele spokesman Doug Heye said last night that "I don't know of any conversations that Lt. Gov. Steele has had on this topic, but I can tell you that there are many people who have said he would be an ideal candidate, based on the race he ran this year."

"I talked to him very briefly about it today. He has not made any decisions yet about what he will do next. He is still focused on his role as lieutenant governor," Mr. Heye said.

Mr. Steele is one of the most successful and respected black Republicans in the country. He served as the elected Maryland Republican Party chairman before running for lieutenant governor.

The White House, RNC and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) were pleased with what they called his tough but dignified performance as senatorial candidate in a liberal state that last elected a Republican senator in 1980. The NRSC had enough confidence in him as a candidate that it directed large amounts of money into independent expenditures on behalf of his campaign in the closing days.

Mr. Mehlman also told The Times he will not step down as Republican national chairman until the RNC's annual winter meeting in Washington. He said he also "will do an intensive after-action review" of the campaign.

The outgoing RNC chief was a regional political director for the 2000 Bush presidential nomination and general election campaigns and then was named White House political director after Mr. Bush's election.

Mr. Mehlman managed the successful 2004 Bush re-election campaign and implemented the vaunted "72-hour task force" -- the final days program to get out the vote for Republican candidates using the latest and most sophisticated technology and massive grass-roots, door-to-door volunteer program. That Republican "ace in the hole" failed to materialize in 2006, however.

After the 2004 election success, he was the choice of Mr. Rove for national party chairman and Mr. Bush let it be known that he agreed. As is traditional when a Republican occupies the White House, the 165-member RNC then elected Mr. Mehlman as chairman at its winter meeting following the 2004 elections.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Mehlman was asked at a luncheon with reporters whether he would announce his future plans at the RNC. He said he had made a decision, which he would announce at a future time.

He stressed, however, that he had made that decision before the election losses, and the two weren't related.

Asked about talk that he would join a possible presidential bid by former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Mehlman said, "I have no plans to do the 2008 primary. I will focus on private sector, the party generally and ultimately on [whoever is] the nominee."

"After seven years of this kind of this [brutal] schedule, I am ready -- and really looking forward to -- the private sector.

"Don't worry," Mr. Mehlman added. "I will remain committed to the cause" of conservatism.

Jon Ward and Amy Fagan contributed to this report.