Republicans, reeling from another election defeat, have taken to arguing over whether their national leader should come from the elected ranks of the Republican National Committee or be a political celebrity such as former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.
“For this association of members to choose to outsource its leadership would, I believe, be an abdication of our responsibility,” Curly Haugland, an RNC member from North Dakota and the former North Dakota Republican Party chairman, wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Steele.
Mr. Haugland called on Mr. Steele to quit the contest for Republican national chairman because he is not an RNC member.
“In my estimation, 168 committed members of the Republican National Committee are a powerful army of qualified advocates for Republican principles; certainly much more threatening to the Democrats than one celebrity spokesman,” Mr. Haugland said.
Mr. Steele was elected lieutenant governor in Maryland, one of the nation’s most Democratic blue states, and ran a nationally watched but unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. He is now a Fox News Channel analyst.
“Your chosen path to leadership of the Republican National Committee exemplifies the problem we should immediately seek to resolve, that being the practice of allowing nonmembers to exert undue influence in the process of selecting our leaders” Mr. Haugland wrote Mr. Steele. “Getting the Republican Party back on the right ‘track’ is a job rightfully left to the Republicans who have been elected to run this railroad.”
Meanwhile, Katon Dawson, the conservative South Carolina Republican Party chairman who is also running for national chairman, is increasingly coming under fire, though for a very different reason.
He was a member for 12 years at the all-white Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, S.C., and only quit his membership in September after a local newspaper raised the issue. Mr. Dawson helped elect to the RNC its first black member from South Carolina, Glen McColl, and the first black Republican state legislator since Reconstruction, Tim Scott.
“I believe we are all God’s children, and that it is a sin to discriminate against any person of color,” Mr. Dawson said, adding that Mr. Steele, who is black, is a “friend of mine.”
Mr. Haugland said his objection to nonmembers seeking the RNC chairmanship applied also to Chip Saltsman, former Tennessee Republican Party chairman and campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid.
But David Norcross, chairman of the RNC Rules Committee, told The Washington Times that many past chairmen have been nonmembers and said nothing in RNC rules prevent nonmembers from being elected to the chairman, treasurer and other officer posts.
Two RNC members who want the chairmanship and who so far are not taking hits from other members are the current national chairman, Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, and Michigan Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis. Mr. Duncan, a national committeeman from Kentucky, won his current term in January 2007 as the personal choice of former Bush White House political guru Karl Rove.
Most RNC members generally hang back to see who the likely winner is before publicly backing a candidate for national chairman, but so far Mr. Anuzis, one of the most active state party chairmen, has won public endorsements from five state Republican Party chairmen: Chris Healy of Connecticut, Mark Quandahl of Nebraska, Sue Lowden of Nevada, Tom Wilson of New Jersey and Herbert Schoenbohm of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Steele also faces opposition from other sources.
The Republican National Coalition for Life and the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association both have came out against Mr. Steele because he and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman were co-chairmen of the centrist Republican Leadership Council and because of his unclear comments about abortion on “Meet the Press.”
A separate e-mail being sent to RNC members notes that the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that advocates for same-sex marriage and other homosexual issues, has embraced Mr. Steele’s candidacy.
“The leader of the RNC will be the most important person in shaping the party’s future,” says Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon. “Steele believes in a big-tent GOP. He has worked closely with Log Cabin ally Christine Todd Whitman at the Republican Leadership Council.”
Mr. Sammon notes that in a National Public Radio interview, Mr. Steele “specifically mentioned the importance of reaching out to Log Cabin and other mainstream GOP groups as the party looks to chart a future course.”
The endorsement by Log Cabin likely will hurt Mr. Steele with religious conservatives but might help him with other more libertarian-minded members.
The RNC will elect its next national chairman at its Jan. 28-31 annual winter meeting at the Capitol Hilton in Washington.
Mr. Steele did not return repeated telephone calls and e-mails from The Times on Wednesday.