A straw poll that could have influenced the outcome of an upcoming election for Republican National Committee chairman slammed into a wall of unexpected opposition Monday, largely with the help of supporters of former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, several participants in a meeting of a rump group of RNC members said.
The planned poll was supposed to rank how conservative Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Steele and four other Republican national chairman hopefuls are — at least in the estimation of the rump group.
But some members told The Washington Times that Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, the incumbent chairman seeking re-election, probably would have won a plurality in such a poll, weakening both Mr. Blackwell, who has strong outside backing from prominent conservatives, and Mr. Steele, who some on the national committee regard with suspicion for consorting with the handful of prominent liberals in the Republican Party.
The 28-17 vote to cancel the poll came during an extraordinary meeting — 37 who showed up in person and others who participated by phone — of an ad hoc group calling itself the Conservative Steering Committee, an exclusive assemblage of self-identified conservatives who are part of the 168-member RNC and who formed to try to ensure a conservative is elected as the next national party chairman at the end of this month.
Attendance at the steering committee’s meeting at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill was by invitation only, with 72 members of the RNC excluded because they were deemed not to be conservatives or said they didn’t support the purpose of the steering committee.
At least one irate RNC member who is also well-known as a conservative in Republican circles was turned away at the door before the vote. Shawn Steel, a national committeeman from California and former California Republican Party chairman, said Steering Committee Chairman Jim Bopp Jr., an RNC member from Indiana, put a finger on Mr. Steel’s chest, pushing him back from the entryway and saying, “You know you are not permitted here.”
“I was not given a reason why I was not admitted,” Mr. Steel said.
“Steel was not admitted by me to the meeting because he is not a member of the steering committee,” Mr. Bopp told The Times.
Mr. Steel is not part of the committee.
“It was a private meeting, and people have a right to meet together with people who share common concerns to informally discuss matters that they are interested in,” Mr. Bopp said. “They are entitled to do so under the First Amendment without interference.”
But at least three other RNC members who attended the steering committee meeting told The Times they thought the ejection of Mr. Steel was unseemly at best and shocking at worst.
Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, this time a special session of the full RNC, at which all six candidates for chairman will appear together and take questions from the members. Fewer than 40 RNC members are expected to show up at the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club.
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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