Friday, May 23, 2003

The White House is expected to announce as early as today who will get the top slots at President Bush’s newly formed re-election campaign committee and who will fill the choice jobs at the Republican National Committee.

The most prominent job change is expected to be that of Republican national chairman, a post now filled by former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot. He is expected to be named general chairman of President Bush’s re-election committee, Republican sources said.

In a series of announcements originally scheduled for last week — but delayed without explanation — Mr. Bush is expected to back lobbyist and former Republican National Committee Communications Director Ed Gillespie to replace Mr. Racicot as national party chairman.

The biggest promotion will go to White House Political Director Ken Mehlman: He will serve as campaign manager for the George Bush-Dick Cheney re-election committee, a job held by Joe Allbaugh in the 2000 campaign.

Mr. Mehlman impressed Mr. Bush and chief strategist Karl Rove with his work on Mr. Bush’s Iowa primary operation during the 2000 presidential contest. Mr. Mehlman’s reward in 2001 was appointment as White House political director.

Deputy Republican National Chairman Jack Oliver, Mr. Rove’s eyes and ears at the Republican National Committee, will move to the re-election committee and be replaced by Maria Cino, who was Mr. Mehlman’s boss in Iowa.

Mr. Oliver will hold the title of deputy finance chairman. He was finance chairman for Mr. Bush’s record-setting 2000 presidential nomination fund raising.

Miss Cino, now an assistant secretary of commerce and director of the U.S. Commercial Service, has a reputation in Republican circles of being the powerhouse behind a number of party and Bush successes.

She was Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign political director before moving to the RNC as a deputy for political and congressional relations.

Republican sources said only Mr. Rove and the president knew for sure why there was a delay in announcing the anticipated changes. “I’ve heard that they were waiting for brouhaha over Mr. Racicot’s appearance at a homosexual rights gathering thing to calm down,” a party official said.

Mr. Racicot was criticized when, on being elected on Mr. Bush’s recommendation as Republican national chairman, he chose to remain a partner and registered lobbyist for the Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson firm.

More recently, Mr. Racicot was publicly castigated by Christian conservative leaders for having addressed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a group that promotes legal protections for homosexuals. Conservative activists were particularly incensed that a Republican National Committee regional press secretary told the Washington Blade newspaper that Mr. Racicot was “honored” to have addressed the HRC.

Another speculated cause for the delay in announcing the changes was that Mr. Gillespie was also under consideration for White House press secretary, a job Ari Fleischer announced he will soon be leaving.

Mr. Racicot was the personal choice of Mr. Bush to replace former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III as the Republican national chairman last year. Mr. Racicot had become a close personal friend of the president’s when both were governors.

Mr. Racicot made a few gaffes in his brief tenure as national party chairman but continues to enjoy the trust and warm support of the president, sources close to the committee said.

Mr. Gillespie was RNC communications director under Haley Barbour during the time when President Clinton and his fellow Democrats had a virtual monopoly of power in Washington. Now a lobbyist, public relations adviser and founder of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, he won Team Bush”s affection for his management of the convention program at Mr. Bush’s nomination in Philadelphia in 2000 and as a spokesman during the Florida recount.

Mercer Reynolds has agreed to become the Bush-Cheney finance chairman, an assignment that forces him to leave the much-sought post to which Mr. Bush had named him in 2001: ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Reynolds was the Bush-Cheney co-finance chairman in Ohio and then co-chairman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

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