- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In a highly unusual move, 37 self-identified conservatives on the 168-member Republican National Committee have formed a group to vet candidates for the $200,300-a-year, elected post of Republican national chairman, The Washington Times has learned.

An e-mail in which the group dubbed itself the RNC Conservative Steering Committee defines its goal as to ensure the election of a reliably conservative national leader. The group of vetters, however, itself includes several of the candidates for national chairman.

The group was the brainchild of Solomon Yue, an RNC member from Oregon and himself a supporter of one of the candidates for national chairman, sitting RNC Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan.

“We had two problems in this election cycle — identity and consistency,” said Mr. Yue. “You can’t have our nominee representing a party of more government and of free markets and of lower taxes. John McCain suspended his campaign, went back to Washington and voted to bail out and nationalize the mortgage industry. No wonder voters believed Barack Obama would lower their taxes.”

The relationship between one of the committee’s organizers and the chairman raised the eyebrows of at least one prominent RNC member.

“I think it is rather strange that this is being organized by someone who supports one of the candidates that the group will be vetting,” former RNC General Counsel David Norcross, a national committeeman from New Jersey and chairman of the RNC’s Rules Committee, told The Times.

But Mr. Yue said he has been “upfront” about his preference for national chairman.

“I will support Mike [Duncan] as long as he is not telling members he is not running,” Mr. Yue told The Times.

James Bopp Jr., hired in September by Mr. Duncan to be the attorney of record in challenges in federal courts of the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, is another of the organizers who signed the e-mail. Mr. Bopp said he expects to see grow in numbers as more RNC members ask to join the steering committee.

The committee will use a Dec. 12 conference call to develop the conservative criteria for picking the next national chairman and then will interview no more than four prospects. Voting will take place on Dec. 19 at an undisclosed location in Washington.

At least two other members of the steering committee who will interview and rate candidates are also themselves candidates for national chairman. They are Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson. A third steering committee member is Texas Republican Party Chairman Tina Benkiser, who may run for national chairman or for national co-chairman. The latter job would allow her to keep her Texas Republican Party chairmanship, which would please social and religious conservatives in Texas and head off the possible election of a Texas state chairman aligned with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Only four candidates have formally declared for national chairman: Mr. Anuzis, a conservative state activist and founder of an Internet-technology firm whose parents were immigrants from Lithuania; Mr. Dawson, a traditional conservative and auto-parts distributor; former Maryland Republican Party chairman and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele who does on-camera news analysis for Fox News and John “Chip” Saltsman, former Tennessee Republican Party chairman and a construction-company owner who flies his own plane to visit state Republican Party chairmen and national committeemen and women across the country to persuade them to elect him as national chairman when the RNC holds its Jan. 29-31 winter meeting at the Capital Hilton hotel in Washington.

Although Mr. Duncan has said he is too busy helping with runoff elections across the country to reveal whether he is a formal candidate for another term as national chairman, he is considered a front-runner. He has funneled campaign donations from the RNC’s coffers to many state party chairmen and solicited the advice of state chairmen and other RNC members - the kind of stroking that allows a candidate to collect chits when needed.

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