- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

The Bush presidency is shaping up to be different from its Republican predecessors in three ways that could determine whether the Republican Party maintains its majority status in the new millennium.
The administration hopes to gain by restructuring the party's relationship to the White House, by using Republican governors as spokesmen between elections and by increasing outreach efforts to black voters.
President Bush and Karl Rove, his chief strategist, have in effect merged the White House political operation with two outside campaign organizations: the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Republican Governors Association (RGA).
Mr. Bush last week appointed his trusted ally, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, as RNC chairman. Mr. Gilmore, in turn, has named Bush campaign finance director Jack Oliver as deputy RNC chairman.
Another close ally of Mr. Bush's, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, has now become RGA chairman.
When the 165-member RNC and the nation's 29 Republican governors were in town last week, everything they said and did, publicly and privately, amounted to a coordinated message promoting Mr. Bush's legislative agenda.
Other Republican presidencies in the past sought to integrate their agendas with those of their party's governors, only to have failed. During the administrations of President Reagan and former President Bush, Republican governors were a minority.
Even when former President Bush appointed his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, as RNC chairman in the early days of his administration, the RNC did not immediately prepare a re-election strategy. After Mr. Atwater's death shortly afterward, the Bush White House did not treat the RNC as an effective instrument for getting its message out to the 50 states and keeping the party's activists and volunteers engaged for the 1992 election.
This time, however, the White House-RNC-RGA trinity already has begun work on the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
The Bush White House political operation also is formulating common policies and strategies for a nonstop election campaign to keep in Republican hands two governorships up for election this year and the 23 up next year.
"The election of Republican governors this year and next is our top priority," an RNC official told The Washington Times.
Meanwhile, the continuous election operation, more common to Democrats when they control the Oval Office, will be driven by current and former governors.
Mr. Bush is overseeing a new era of rule by Republican governors who are "experienced, successful, practical manager[s] of bureaucracies that are expected to carry out gubernatorial initiatives more quickly and fully than the federal bureaucracies," says former Iowa Republican Chairman Kayne Robinson.
"What this administration will be advocating and carrying out is in direct line with the governors," Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne says.
Mr. Bush was in his second term as Texas governor when he won the presidency. He has appointed to his Cabinet Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey to be the director of the Environmental Protection Agency and former Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri to be the next attorney general.
Mr. Ridge argues that it may be easier to build bipartisan support among governors than in Congress for Mr. Bush's agenda, especially on issues such as education and Social Security reform.
To illustrate the intention of the Bush administration to establish a coordinated party effort to promote Mr. Bush's message, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card met privately with the nation's Republican governors Friday and confirmed that Mr. Bush's legislative agenda will be the same one he outlined two weeks earlier when he had invited the governors for a meeting in Crawford, Texas.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi also met with the governors, saying they would fully support Mr. Bush's agenda. Mr. Kempthorne added that "it is also the governors' agenda."
Ken Mehlman, White House political director and the national field director for Mr. Bush's presidential campaign, spent two days last week with Mr. Gilmore and the RNC. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove also put in personal appearances.
Mr. Mehlman says the White House and the RNC "have a common mission over next four years" and are wasting no time getting started on it.
The White House, the RNC and the RGA also are stating publicly the same message about an emerging election strategy regarding black voters. That strategy became a source of embarrassment and some anger for Republicans last November.
The president's dismal performance among black voters, despite the fact that his campaign spent an unprecedented $1 million in advertising on black radio stations and speeches by Mr. Bush to national civil rights conventions, has made Republican strategists determined to make the party more appealing to blacks.
In an appearance before Mr. Gilmore and the full RNC last week, Mr. Rove lamented that Mr. Bush won 209,000 fewer black votes than Bob Dole had won in 1996.
"That has to be unacceptable for us as a party," Mr. Rove said. "It's important to our survival as [a] political party that we turn that around."
In fact, Republican governors have concluded that the Northeast and Midwest are winnable only if the party can reverse the dismal Republican performance with black voters. They are beginning what strategists say will be a persistent campaign to immunize themselves from last-minute campaign scare tactics by civil-rights leaders allied with the Democratic Party.
Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Ridge have argued that the Republican Party can no longer court the black community solely in an election year and using only targeted advertising. Rather, it has to start building personal relationships with black leaders at the community level on an almost daily basis.
"Our commitment to this outreach cannot be just in an election year or an election cycle," Mr. Ridge said. "We have to be prepared to take our message [into the black communities] and to be criticized and booed. We have to be persistent."


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