- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The 168 members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) will be voting tomorrow to elect a new chairman. Most Republicans don’t even know about this election, but its importance cannot be overstated. The outcome will have much to do with whether a Republican president is elected in 2012.

The job won’t be easy. The new chairman will be facing a debt of $20 million and will have to raise several hundred million dollars more for the 2011-12 presidential cycle.

Five candidates are seeking this thankless task. All of them are qualified, except for one: incumbent Michael S. Steele, who is seeking a second term. He alone is responsible for the record-high debt and for alienating the RNC’s big donors. Mr. Steele is shamelessly taking credit for the huge GOP gains in the November midterm elections, which happened in spite of his financial irresponsibility and incompetence.

The winning candidate must garner a majority of 85 votes, but none of the contenders has that level of support, so the election is expected to go several rounds. The candidates participated in a debate last week, and the four challengers all proved to be quite conservative. No Republicans in name only in this group.

This election is about choosing the person who is most qualified to help the party take back the White House in 2012 and nothing else. Of the four challengers, Maria Cino has the most impressive credentials.

I’m aware that voting for Ms. Cino may seem counterintuitive. She is not the most charismatic speaker, but the RNC doesn’t need a chairman who can wow them at the podium. There will be plenty of presidential candidates to do that. Ms. Cino is a proven leader who knows how to work the room. Not the one with the cameras, but the one in the back, where she has been on the job for 30 years making things happen.

She was the political director for George W. Bush’s successful presidential campaign in 2000 and then later served as deputy chairman of the RNC back when it was the most effective fundraising and political machine in modern history.

In 1993, she was named executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which was devastated by the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. The NRCC faced a debt of $7.8 million in today’s dollars. According to staffers, she, with the help of the RNC, turned the NRCC around financially, streamlining fundraising and drastically reducing staff. Her efforts played an important part in the Republican Revolution of 1994, in which the GOP regained a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years.

During that time, she also created the first website for a national political party, which gave Republican candidates unprecedented access to election research. A chairman like Ms. Cino, who has the savvy to update the RNC’s lagging database technology, would be a definite plus.

Ms. Cino is the only candidate with a plan - in fact, several very detailed “action plans,” which she drafted after consulting with RNC members. The first calls for an immediate review of the wildly inflated budget for the upcoming Republican National Convention, which she managed effectively in 2008.

She also wants greater accountability of the RNC chairman to the members. Such a plan might have prevented the committee’s current massive debt. She has drafted proposals to pay off the debt and rebuild fundraising efforts, citing her close relationships with major donors and calling for regional finance chairmen. She also has promised state parties that she will work more closely with them to build up voter programs.

Commentators have said RNC members would never vote for a person like Ms. Cino, who is identified with the Bush administration. That’s a little like saying the New York Yankees should never have acquired Babe Ruth because he played for their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox. You don’t argue with success, and based on what I’m hearing, the members know that.

Others have pointed out that though Ms. Cino is a former RNC staffer, she is not a member, and they will only vote for one of their own. I think the members are above such pettiness. They know there’s too much at stake in the 2012 presidential election. After all, it will represent a major battle in the culture war and will determine whether Americans continue to live under a limited form of government or a European-style nanny state.

Dave Berg was a co-producer for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” for 18 years.