Monday, June 16, 2003

Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot yesterday announced he will become chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and be replaced as national party chairman by Ed Gillespie.

Mr. Gillespie, 41, a protege of former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, is popular with national committee members and congressional Republicans. But his new assignment may not be as easy as it looks, despite Mr. Bush’s popularity and last year’s Republican success in Senate, House, state legislative and gubernatorial races.

The Washington Times reported last month that President Bush intended to move Mr. Racicot, the former governor of Montana, from the RNC to his 2004 campaign committee and to name Mr. Gillespie as his choice to replace Mr. Racicot.

Mr. Gillespie yesterday told The Washington Times he aims to strengthen the grass-roots organizing that was emphasized by the Bush campaign’s political team in 2000 and that Republicans used effectively in achieving their electoral sweep in 2002.

“The Republican Party functions best when it functions as a bottom-up party, and President Bush energizes Republicans in a way we haven’t seen in a long time,” Mr. Gillespie said. “The party as an institution has done a great job of translating that energy into votes, but we can always do better.”

In a statement yesterday, Mr. Bush described Mr. Racicot as “a close friend” who now “will help communicate our optimistic agenda and record of accomplishments.”

The president said Mr. Racicot will “continue efforts to bring new faces and new people into our cause,” an apparent reference to efforts by the RNC under Mr. Racicot to win a greater share of the Hispanic, Asian and black vote for Republicans.

The job shifts will take place at the RNC’s annual summer meeting next month in New York City. Mr. Racicot will formally relinquish his chairmanship at the New York meeting, and the committee’s 165 elected members will take a formal vote to make Mr. Gillespie the new chairman.

Even with Mr. Bush’s relatively high job-approval rating among voters, the new RNC chairman, no matter how talented and experienced, may have to overcome challenges not faced by his predecessors.

Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and an RNC member from Virginia, noted that Mr. Gillespie “faces potential difficulties in doing what he is expected to do” to elect Republicans in 2004. “The McCain-Feingold [campaign-finance] law, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will reduce the resources available” for national party committees, he said.

“It’s clear that the party plans to build on the successes of 2002 by putting even greater emphasis on organizational politics,” said Mr. Blackwell. “Gone are the days when a political consultant can direct all the money into … paid media. And Gillespie has been a proponent of organizational politics for a long time.”

Mr. Gillespie was RNC’s director of communications and congressional affairs under Mr. Barbour during the Clinton presidency. He then managed the party’s 2000 national convention in Philadelphia.

The new chairman can be expected, as Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett put it, to enunciate the party’s election themes and president’s campaign message clearly, without falling into traps set by hostile questioners among the press corps.

“You have two main things you have to be concerned about: message delivery and the execution of the RNC’s mission in the states — the grass-roots effort to re-elect the president,” Mr. Bennett said. “Gillespie is not only a good organizer, but also good on message.”

Fund raising, a chief task for both Mr. Racicot and Mr. Gillespie, should not be much of a challenge. “The fund raising in a presidential re-election campaign with an incumbent is not exactly the hardest thing to do,” said Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Gillespie was a strategist for last year’s North Carolina Senate campaign in which Elizabeth Dole achieved the largest margin of victory of any Senate candidate in the state in more than 25 years. He was an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas and a founder of the Quinn, Gillespie & Associates public relations firm.

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