- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A right-left split is straining the Republican big tent as the party's national committee prepares to meet in Texas this week.

Committee sources said that party officials have been maneuvering to keep ideological tensions from erupting into a public dispute in Austin.

That would be bad news for a White House eager to maintain party unity for this year's midterm elections and President Bush's 2004 re-election effort.

Some conservatives are unhappy with the expected election of prominent New Jersey fund-raiser Lewis Eisenberg as the party's new national finance chairman.

"I have a big problem with Eisenberg," said pro-life Texas RNC member Tim Lambert. "My perception is he is only for Republicans who are left-of-center."

At the behest of the White House, party officials asked Georgia Republican Party Chairman Ralph Reed to nominate Mr. Eisenberg for the top finance post at the Austin meeting a move intended to make his election more acceptable to the right. Mr. Reed is the Christian Coalition's former executive director.

"We're grateful [Mr. Eisenberg] is willing to serve," said Ann Wagner, co-chairman of the RNC. "He has a long history of raising money for Republicans across the ideological spectrum, from Bob Dole and George Bush to George Pataki and Christie Todd Whitman."

Mr. Eisenberg founded the socially liberal, pro-choice Republican Leadership Council. Some staunch pro-life Republicans believe the RLC's real goal is to purge them from the party.

"As a conservative, it concerns me that he has been in the forefront of the RLC, which has tried to cut the legs off the conservative movement, especially on the pro-life issue," said Dr. Buddy Witherspoon, a South Carolina RNC member.

"If politics had truth-in-packaging, the RLC would be required to drop the 'R,'" said veteran conservative activist Gary Bauer.

Beyond criticizing Mr. Eisenberg's politics, e-mail messages about his personal life have circulated among RNC members. In 1989, Mr. Eisenberg resigned his partnership in the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs after a former assistant filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

A 1990 Wall Street Journal article said "no one denies" that Mr. Eisenberg, who was married at the time, had a seven-year affair with Kathy Abraham.

In her lawsuit, she claimed that Mr. Eisenberg suggested she have sex with other Goldman Sachs partners.

The suit was later dismissed and Miss Abraham recanted her claims after receiving a settlement from the firm.

Some conservatives expressed shock that Mr. Eisenberg is supported by Mr. Bush who, in his inaugural address, spoke of his commitment to "character" and "personal responsibility."

Texas RNC member Denise McNamara said she was "deeply disappointed in the choice of Mr. Eisenberg."

"It says our party's standards are no different from the standards of the Democrats," she said.

Mr. Lambert said the sex scandal was his "major concern" with Mr. Eisenberg. "This is exactly the kind of behavior that typified Bill Clinton," the Texas conservative said.

But Mr. Eisenberg's expected election isn't the only issue troubling conservative Republicans.

Some RNC members are privately seething over what they see as the White House's ouster last month of former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III as Republican national chairman and his expected replacement by former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot.

Mr. Racicot is considered less conservative than Mr. Gilmore.

In an unusual move, the 165-member RNC is expected to elect Mr. Racicot this week a year earlier than party bylaws call for and to have him serve out the remainder of Mr. Gilmore's two-year term. Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, Mr. Gilmore last month announced that he would resign at the Austin meeting.

Replacing Mr. Gilmore with Mr. Racicot would not alone be enough to disturb the tranquility that Mr. Bush has brought to the party. But adding Mr. Eisenberg and the RLC to mix could be explosive, some social conservatives say.

"If a group of people wants to raise money for right-wing or left-wing candidates in our party, it's their purview," a longtime RNC member said privately. "What could get the Bush administration in trouble is having both Racicot and Eisenberg at the RNC. I know some conservatives outside the national committee are going to go off the chart with anger."

Some conservative RNC members, however, will have no part of the behind-the-scenes effort to block Mr. Eisenberg.

Florida Republicans Chairman Al Cardenas said Mr. Eisenberg will benefit the national party where it most needs help.

"The party has not done well in places like New York and Chicago. He has strengths in these areas," he said.

"Everybody I know says he's a tremendous fund-raiser, and that's what being the finance chairman is all about," said Robert K. Kjellander Jr., the pro-life RNC Rules Committee chairman. "Besides, the only conservative who counts is President Bush. He sets policy for the national committee. The national finance chairman is not a policy-maker."

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