- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Texas Republican Party Chairman Tina Benkiser has teamed up with Ohio´s Ken Blackwell in the contest to lead the Republican National Committee over the next two years.

The Washington Times has learned Mrs. Benkiser has decided to forgo a run for RNC national chairman and instead to run for co-chairman, a traditionally less powerful position that historically, with one exception, has been held by a woman.

“If I ran for chairman, I decided after looking over the field, it might contribute to dividing the conservative vote and allowing a moderate to win,” she told The Times in a phone interview Tuesday.

In the draft of a letter to be sent to other voting members of the national committee, she writes that she “decided to run for the co-chair position because a chairman candidate has emerged who has everything it takes to help us restore our party and return to our winning ways. Ken Blackwell has the courage and experience to both lead and inspire us to achieve great things as a party.”

Mrs. Benkiser, a practicing attorney in Houston, is an evangelical Christian who, like Mr. Blackwell, opposes same-sex marriage and legalized abortion but, also like him, emphasizes “pro-growth” economic polices of low-taxes, small government and reduced regulations on business where possible.

Like Mr. Blackwell, she maintains the GOP doesn’t need to be less conservative to win future elections but needs to have its elected officials at all levels of government adhere to the principles of spending restraint, low taxes and respect for family values and personal honesty for which the GOP claims to stand.

“Our national party grew and was entrusted with leadership when it stayed true to its conservative principles,” she says in her letter to other members. “Focusing on fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and traditional family values brought unprecedented growth to the party not that long ago. America was and still is a center-right country.”

“It was only when national Republican officials failed to stay true to the Party’s values and uphold high ethical standards that the Party began to lose races and the trust of the American people,” she writes.

On paper, a Blackwell-Benkiser team looks like a good, but not perfect, fit.

One disadvantage Mrs. Benkiser has is that she does not enjoy Mr. Blackwell’s experience in elected office.

Now a fellow at the Family Research Council, a think-tank for social conservative causes, as well as at the Libertarian-leaning Club for Growth, Mr. Blackwell has held the Ohio offices of lieutenant governor and treasurer.

“I come to Washington often, but I am rooted in state Republican party organization and politics and I realize I don’t have a big footprint in Washington the way Ken does,” Mrs. Benkiser said.

Mr. Blackwell also has served as an assistant secretary under former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp in the administration of the first President Bush and won the GOP nomination for governor, losing to Democrat Ted Strickland, by a 24 percent in 2006.

The chairman and co-chairman will be elected in separate balloting during the Jan. 28-31 RNC annual winter meeting in the District. None of the other candidates for chairman has indicated a favorite for cochairman.