- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

Republican National Committee Chairman candidate Michael S. Steele castigated Republican Party leadership Tuesday for having a “country club” mentality and being out of touch, and said if he is chosen to represent the party, he will help transform it into an inspiring choice for young and minority voters.

“Let´s just be very frank about it. What the party´s got to do is get its head out of the clouds and out of the sand and recognize that the dynamics politically and otherwise around them have changed,” said Mr. Steele, in an interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.

“The coalitions … are very different from what they were 25 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Steele, 50, who in 2002 became the first black lieutenant governor of Maryland, talked at length about how the Republican Party can recover from an election in which Democratic President-elect Barack Obama won traditionally conservative states, such as Virginia and Indiana, largely because he drew huge numbers of first-time voters to the polls.

Mr. Steele blasted the Republican Party’s lackluster effort in recruiting those same new voters, especially minorities.

“The problem is that within the operations of the RNC, they don’t give a damn. It’s all about outreach … and outreach means let’s throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them - ‘See, look at us,’ ” he said.

“And then we go back to same old, same old. There’s nothing that is driven down to the state party level, where state chairmen across the country, to the extent they don’t appreciate it, are helped to appreciate the importance of African-Americans and women and others coming and being a part of this party, and to the extent that they do appreciate it, are given support and backup to generate their own programs to create this relationship.”

“Outreach is a cocktail party. Coalitions … a relationship. I’m going to look you in the eye. I’m going to be at your table. I’m going to sit and talk to you,” said Mr. Steele, who has for the last two years been the chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee.

Mr. Steele said if he gets the RNC job, he expects the press to ridicule it as a race-based attempt to piggyback on the election of Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president.

“If I’m elected chairman … many in the media will dismiss it as tokenism by the Republican Party, trying to play their form of the race card … and it will speak to a general disrespect they have of guys like me,” said Mr. Steele, whose run for the U.S. Senate seat from Maryland in 2006 drew Mr. Obama into the state twice to campaign against him.

Mr. Steele said that during the 2006 election, he and two other black Republican candidates for statewide office - former football star Lynn Swann for Pennsylvania governor and former Ohio state Treasurer Ken Blackwell for governor there - were called “lawn jockeys” for the Republican Party.

Nonetheless, Mr. Steele had praise for the people who have surfaced as Mr. Obama’s first two likely Cabinet choices: former Clinton administration Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

He called Mr. Holder, who was reported Tuesday to have been chosen for attorney general, “a good man … a smart man.”

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