Sunday, December 7, 2008

COMMENTARY:

In 1962, I covered Congress as a reporter for a news bureau that included the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, the Columbia (S.C.) State, the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, WFLA-(Tampa) TV, 50,000-watt radio stations WDBO (Orlando) and WGBS (Miami) to name a few of the more than two dozen media outlets.

From that perspective, I witnessed one of the most lopsided presidential victories ever. Democrat Lyndon Johnson beat Republican Barry Goldwater, 486 electoral votes to 52 with a popular vote of 43 million to 27 million. LBJ carried 44 states and the District of Columbia. As you might imagine, the Johnson landslide defeated many Republican members of the House and Senate, as well.

I recall one byproduct of that landslide was Republican leaders searching for a grass-roots Republican National Committee chairman, settling on Ohio GOP Chairman Ray Bliss, who helped turn around the stunning Goldwater defeat of 1964 into a dramatic realignment victory in 1968 when Richard Nixon won back the White House by handily defeating both Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent George Wallace.

Forty years on, in both the 2006 and 2008 cycles, after mounting losses in the House and Senate and the White House, it appears time for Republicans to find another grass-roots leader who can perform similar magic. There are several able-bodied state chairmen eyeing the Republican National Committee reins.



But wait. The RNC already has a proven first-rate leader in its current chairman from my home state of Kentucky, Mike Duncan. Look at his record. A staggering $400 million-plus dollars raised. For my 50 years on the political scene, his fund-raising prowess brings to mind the words of a prominent Democrat in the 1960s, Jesse Unruh, who famously said “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Mike Duncan, in the strong headwind years Republicans have just faced, has surely provided the “mother’s milk of politics” for Republican candidates.

Mike’s ability to raise money is extraordinary; while he has gracefully credited what he calls his “superb finance team,” it is clear to me Mr. Duncan, should he decide to run for another term, may yet be able to turn the current gloom and doom of the GOP around just as his predecessor, Ray Bliss, did in the mid ‘60s. Indeed, if one of the primary barometers for a chairman’s success is the real political capital raised, Mr. Duncan is in good standing. In less than two years, I reiterate, Mr. Duncan has raised a record total of more than $400 million for Republican causes and candidates.

I also note with appreciation that Mr. Duncan is working to be certain these funds raised will not be compromised by campaign finance reform that goes by the increasingly unpopular title of McCain-Feingold. Under Mr. Duncan, the RNC has recently filed lawsuits in the District of Columbia and Louisiana challenging, respectively, the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s ban on national parties raising and spending nonfederal dollars and the constitutionality of political party coordinated expenditure limits. The chairman has said, “The campaign finance restrictions infringe on the First Amendment’s core: political speech and association. The RNC must have the ability to support state candidates, coordinate expenditures with our candidates, and truly engage in political activity on a national level. The RNC has operated under and complied with these provisions of the law since their enactment, and as applied it is unconstitutional.” We strongly concur.

Mike Duncan is an exceptional leader with a long and distinguished history of working behind the scenes for his country and his party. The Republican Party will be well-served if the RNC members reward Mike Duncan for an extraordinarily good job in an unusually bad time by electing him chairman for another term.

His amazing fund-raising ability to provide the “mother’s milk of politics” is just what the doctor ordered for an ailing GOP.

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, now in its 15th year advocating on behalf of senior citizens.

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