- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ken Mehlman met his first test as chairman of the Republican National Committee yesterday, heading off a rebellion by pro-life RNC members opposed to JoAnn Davidson, the pro-choice former Ohio House speaker and Mr. Mehlman’s choice for national GOP co-chairman.

Without protest, the 165-member Republican National Committee elected Mr. Mehlman — the 38-year-old conservative who managed President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign — as national chairman and Mrs. Davidson, 77, as co-chairman of the RNC’s annual winter meeting.

Endorsed for national chairman by Mr. Bush and the president’s chief political strategist, Karl Rove, Mr. Mehlman is popular with the state party chairmen and elected national committeemen who make up the RNC.

Mr. Mehlman is the first campaign specialist to head the RNC since the late Lee Atwater held the post after the first President Bush was elected in 1988. RNC members said they look to Mr. Mehlman’s skills to help ensure GOP victories in their states in the 2006 midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections.

Yesterday, only Mrs. Davidson’s nomination posed a potential problem for the national party’s image of unity. Before the open floor vote, she took the podium and pledged to support all of Mr. Bush’s policies. Many religious conservatives view the president as a solid ally in opposition to abortion.

Beginning Tuesday, Mr. Mehlman directed a behind-the-scenes effort to assuage the concerns of about a dozen evangelical Christian RNC members who had threatened to put one of their own names in nomination for co-chairman as a protest over the choice of Mrs. Davidson.

Mr. Mehlman, RNC Rules Committee Chairman Bob Kjellander of Illinois, and former RNC general counsel David Norcross of New Jersey spoke in person and by telephone with disgruntled RNC members and others on the committee who reported being deluged with anti-Davidson e-mails and phone calls from pro-life Republicans in their states.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, a handful of RNC members were seen abruptly leaving the various regional RNC breakfasts they were attending. They had quietly been asked to assemble in a private room where — as several RNC officials later confided — the members met with Mr. Mehlman and Mrs. Davidson.

Mr. Mehlman reminded the dissenting pro-life members of the president’s private meeting Tuesday with the full RNC membership, in which Mr. Bush urged them to elect Mrs. Davidson. Her efforts in putting together a large force of volunteers in Ohio were credited with winning that state, and therefore the presidency, for Mr. Bush in November.

When it was Mrs. Davidson’s turn to speak to the dissidents, officials say she promised not to speak at fund-raising and organizing events sponsored by pro-choice groups. She also promised to support retention of the current pro-life plank in the national party platform.

The outcome was far different from a public conflict that took place on the floor of the 2002 RNC annual summer meeting in Austin, Texas, when pro-choice New Jersey fund-raiser Lewis M. Eisenberg was elected RNC finance chairman. RNC leadership tried and failed to enlist the aid of Ralph Reed — the former executive director of the Christian Coalition was chairman of the Georgia GOP at the time — in quashing a protest by pro-life members of the committee.

A chorus of “no” votes were heard in the voice vote that followed, but Mr. Eisenberg was elected — a move viewed as part of a White House effort to please the party’s wealthiest donors, many of whom are liberals on social issues like abortion.

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