A prominent evangelical leader has intervened in the fray for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee on behalf on one of the contenders and questioned the moral commitment of one of the best-known contenders for the nationally prominent job.
The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, who founded the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., publicly endorsed South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, a wealthy auto parts distributor, for the post of national Republican Party leader.
In a Nov. 19 e-mail to Saul Anuzis, party chairman in Michigan and also a contender for the RNC leader post, Mr. Wildmon extols the virtues of Mr. Dawson and also questions the conservative bona fides of Mr. Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.
"Dear Saulius," Mr. Wildmon wrote, referring to the Michigan chairman by his formal name. "If the Republican Party is to survive, it must get back to its roots. I believe that Katon Dawson, Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, has the ability to take the party where it needs to go."
Mr. Wildmon's note goes on to state: "If you haven't decided who to support, I certainly hope you will consider Katon. Should you have questions concerning Katon and his ability to lead, feel free to contact him," going on to provide the phone number.
The e-mail is signed, "Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman American Family Association."
Corrected paragraph: How many similar e-mails went out to the 168-member RNC Wednesday night could not be determined. Mr. Wildmon backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican presidential primary and his evangelical Christian message reaches several million radio listeners and Internet subscribers.
The mailing surprised both Mr. Anuzis and Mr. Steele, each of whom describes himself as a pro-life Catholic. Mr. Steele was nixed for the RNC chairmanship by Bush White House political guru Karl Rove in the wake of the party's 2006 electoral defeats.
In his e-mail, Mr. Wildmon cites a 2006 interview with Tim Russert in which Mr. Steele dances around a series of questions about overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that made abortion a federal constitutional right. The Russert interview has been widely circulated in conservative circles in recent days.
In a postscript to his e-mail, Mr. Wildmon says that interview proves that "Steele is against overturning Roe v. Wade ... against a constitutional amendment banning abortion [and] disingenuously calls abortion an issue that should be handled by the states even though the states can't restrict abortion in any meaningful way until Roe is overturned."
In an editorial board meeting at The Washington Times on Tuesday, Mr. Steele clarified his stance, saying that he thinks Roe should be overturned as a sloppy piece of decision-making, favors state regulation on abortion, and supports the Republican party's platform that calls for a constitutional ban on abortion. Mr. Steele also acknowledged to The Times having joined the centrist Republican Leadership Council, which is officially pro-choice as a group, but said he did so in an effort to broaden the pro-choice faction's view of pro-lifers within the GOP.
Mr. Steele added however that he is skeptical of changing the Constitution, fearing that the process will get out of control, a concern also shared by Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and David Keene of the American Conservative Union.
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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