A member of the Republican National Committee from President Bush's home state yesterday escalated the rebellion against Mr. Bush's choice to head the committee going into the 2008 presidential elections.
Texas RNC member Denise McNamara said the attempt by Mr. Bush's supporters on the national committee to name Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida as general chairman "is like pouring gas on an already smoldering electorate," citing Mr. Martinez's role in promoting last year's "comprehensive" immigration bill in the Senate.
"Choosing an RNC chairman who supports amnesty [for illegal aliens] is tantamount to telling the conservative majority of Americans that they do not matter."
The fight over the party chairmanship reflects grass-roots discontent, heightened by Republican midterm election losses in November, as the 168-member RNC convenes for its annual winter meeting today at the Grand Hyatt Hotel downtown.
Mr. Martinez's opponents are ready to challenge the White House's efforts to force on the party a general chairman whose views on illegal immigration, they say, are opposed by 80 percent of the electorate.
They cite polls indicating that the issue has split the party and contributed to its November losses.
The vote is scheduled for tomorrow.
"The question is whether the Martinez fight will be a skirmish or a full-scale rebellion," said New Jersey RNC member David Norcross, a former RNC general counsel who oversaw the 2004 Republican presidential nominating convention in New York. "I think it will be a skirmish, but I am preparing for a full-scale rebellion."
One of Mr. Martinez's supporters, Florida RNC member Paul Senft Jr., told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper: "With some people, the issue of amnesty is a litmus test and anything short of a concentration camp is amnesty."
A Virginia-based group, English First, has created a Web site, StopMartinez.com, that declares the senator from Florida is: "Wrong on English. Wrong on Amnesty. Wrong for the Republican National Committee."
Mr. Norcross plans to introduce a motion at the meeting tomorrow to create the position of national chairman. He says the RNC's rules adopted at the 2004 national convention allow for the creation of such a position and for it to be filled by a nonmember. Mr. Martinez's opponents point out that he is not an RNC member.
Mr. Norcross and other RNC leaders scheduled a 10 p.m. strategy session yesterday to deal with the rebellion. At least one rebel faction scheduled its own strategy session last night.
Some members oppose in principle the creation of the general chairmanship, to be filled by the president's handpicked choice. They say the national committee, whose members are elected by party activists in each state and territory, should be led by an elected member.
Some conservatives say the Martinez move will impede RNC fundraising and make electing a Republican president and restoring the party's dominance of Congress all the more difficult next year.
"It is hard to motivate voters who are angry and who feel betrayed. He is simply the wrong choice at the wrong time," Mrs. McNamara said.
The Texas committee member recalled that in November, "speculation was swirling about the possible nomination of [former Maryland Lt. Gov.] Michael Steele" as RNC chairman, and said that "excitement began to build at the prospect of a new face to lead the RNC."
"Unfortunately, White House political strategist Karl Rove had other ideas. He announced Martinez as the president's choice for RNC chair, crushing the hope of millions of Republican grass-roots activists," Mrs. McNamara said.
Although many Texas Republicans had urged her to support Mr. Steele, she said, "I had three times as many calls asking me to oppose Senator Martinez."