‘Dirtiest ever’ race for RNC chairman

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From anonymous charges of racism, old-fashioned graft and outright incompetence, the six-man race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee has devolved into the dirtiest - and most closely watched - in recent history.

The 168 members who Friday will elect the next chairman have been inundated with anonymous e-mails attacking the characters and capabilities of the various candidates and, in at least one case, accusing a candidate of conspiring with political consultants to cash in on the millions of dollars in future advertising by the party.

“This is dirtiest ever - and remember, I was the longest-serving state party chairman in the history of this committee,” said RNC member and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, a supporter of Mike Duncan, the incumbent national chairman who is seeking a second two-year term.

One candidate, South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson, is the subject this week of an unsigned e-mail to RNC members that bore a hypothetical USA Today front page with the banner headline, “RNC members choose ‘whites only’ chairman,” as a warning of how a Dawson win would be spun.

A month before declaring for the chairmanship, Mr. Dawson quit a country club that had barred blacks. Rivals don’t call him racist but said they worry that the media and Democrats will exploit the “whites only” issue - even though black Republicans in his state have publicly supported Mr. Dawson for national chairman.

Shawn Steel, former California party chairman, blames Mr. Duncan for the vitriol, and said the incumbent and his “entourage of consultants and vendors have been feeding off the RNC for years.”

“It’s the bloodiest, most vicious race I’ve seen, with the establishment pulling out all stops to protect their privileges,” said Mr. Steel, who supports former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Reminded that another longtime Republican insider, Blaise Hazelwood, is managing Mr. Steele’s campaign for chairman, Mr. Steel said, “Listen, nothing’s perfect in politics.”

Mr. Duncan said he was not involved in any personal attacks and that he has sent a letter to members discouraging dirty politics.

“I have not, nor to my knowledge has anyone on my team had anything to do with the malicious and anonymous e-mails and accusations that have been distributed,” Mr. Duncan said in a separate e-mail to The Washington Times. “I sent a personal message sharing this sentiment to all RNC members within the last week.”

Mr. Duncan added that his plan for change “returns the RNC to a committee that is driven by members, not consultants and vendors.”

After back-to-back losses that cost the party control of Congress and the White House, Republicans, especially state party leaders, see Friday’s election as a turning point.

However, when The Times submitted three questions on the biggest hot-button issues - gay marriage, immigration and federal bailouts - little substantive difference emerged among the six men.

Mr. Duncan was the lone candidate who did not respond initially to the questions, instead sending a single response attacking President Obama and not even doing so on the issues in question. All six men support a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and doubt the government’s competence to bail out industries failing in the marketplace.

Each man has spent at least a six-figure sum on the campaign, in pursuit of a job that pays only $223,500 a year plus expenses, the same amount as the speaker of the U.S. House.

Envious of the organization and fundraising that Howard Dean delivered for his party as Democratic National Committee chairman, Republicans are fighting to elect someone who can become the face of the party and expand its ranks versus an organizer who can unite the party’s disparate factions and raise funds.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

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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