George W. Bush had been expected to send his campaign’s finance chairman, Don Evans, to lead a “friendly merger” with the Republican National Committee.
But delay in making the move is causing frustration in both organizations, party and campaign officials said.
Speculation has surfaced that Mr. Evans, longtime Bush friend and confidant, doesn’t want to leave Austin for Washington or that Mr. Bush doesn’t want him 1,500 miles away and that instead of Mr. Evans, Mr. Bush will insert a trusted fellow governor or someone else as general RNC chairman over Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, the elected head of the party.
The delay has allowed people hostile to Mr. Nicholson and to RNC co-chairman Patricia Harrison to spread rumors that the Bush campaign was getting ready to dump Mr. Nicholson or Mrs. Harrison or both, campaign and party officials said.
But Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh last week assured Mr. Nicholson that no general chairman was being contemplated, and officials in both organizations told The Washington Times that Mr. Evans is almost certain to head the friendly merger and the only issue is timing.
Mrs. Harrison, who is popular with many Republican governors and senior Republican lawmakers, also has been assured of her role through the November elections.
The problem is that the immediate needs of Mr. Bush, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, are at odds with the needs of Mr. Nicholson and RNC Finance Chairman Mel Sembler.
“I need Don [Evans] and Jack Oliver (Mr. Evans’ deputy) and six or eight of their top people here now,” Mr. Sembler told The Washington Times.
The RNC needs Mr. Evans to boost the RNC’s already record-shattering contributions in preparation for the Republican nominating convention July 31-Aug. 3 and for the presidential election.
Mr. Bush, however, needs Mr. Evans to continue raising “hard” federally regulated contributions. Only these contributions, under federal election law, may be used to finance Mr. Bush’s travels and speeches until his party officially nominates him in August.
The travel and speeches allow Mr. Bush to get his message out and counter Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Unlike Mr. Gore, who accepted federal matching funds for the primary race, Mr. Bush chose to rely only on individual contributions, but then nearly depleted his campaign coffers in an unexpectedly difficult nomination contest against his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Mr. Gore had an easier time defeating his Democratic rival, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.
Mr. Evans thus needs to continue setting up $1,000-a-plate fund-raising events for Mr. Bush’s technically still-active nomination campaign.
“That’s fine,” said Mr. Sembler. “I understand that, but we need Don [Evans] here. We’ve got a lot of big fund raising to do here.”
Once on the RNC payroll, Mr. Evans could legally raise “soft money” contributions in excess of the federal $1,000 limit which he cannot legally raise as Mr. Bush’s campaign-finance chairman.
Mr. Evans also can personally oversee all RNC operations for Mr. Bush, including the coordination of strategy and of the Bush campaign’s daily message with Republicans governors and House and Senate members and candidates.
“It will be a friendly merger [with the Bush campaign], rather than a hostile takeover,” said Tom Cole, Mr. Nicholson’s chief of staff.
This year, the RNC will focus its spending on helping Mr. Bush defeat Mr. Gore. Four years ago, the RNC, deciding that Bob Dole was unlikely to defeat President Clinton, began diverting resources to help Republican lawmakers keep their majority in Congress.
The RNC is set to raise and spend at least $177 million on the election year. The April 26 annual RNC gala set its fund-raising goal at $15 million, but could hit $20 million, several Republican fund-raisers predicted.