- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

SAN DIEGO | Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty accused President Obama of being a “pacifist in the war on spending,” while Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele also scored a major personal victory Thursday at the RNC annual summer meeting.

Mr. Pawlenty, considered a prime potential 2012 GOP presidential nomination contender, threw crowd-pleasing zingers at the Democratic president in a luncheon address to the 168-member committee.

“Obama’s ideas on finance would make Bernie Madoff blush,” Mr. Pawlenty quipped in a speech that drew waves of appreciative laughter and applause from the partisan audience.

Shortly before the Pawlenty speech, Mr. Steele had narrowly won the first major test of his power as RNC chairman, getting the powerful Rules Committee to elect his choice to head that panel over two more conservative rivals.

Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida party and a close ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, won 27 votes from the 51 Rules Committee members who voted, compared with 20 for Bruce Ash of Arizona and four for Curly Haugland of North Dakota. The panel has one RNC member from each of the 50 states and six territories.

Some of Mr. Steele’s critics say they will stop regarding him, for now, as the “embattled” chairman of the Republican Party’s national governing body.

“He has been doing a good job lately, and no, I wouldn’t call him the ‘embattled chairman’ anymore, but he’ll still have to prove himself with a couple of victories,” said Indiana RNC member and social conservative Dee Dee Benkie.

She said Republicans are looking to Mr. Steele to lead the party to victories over incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey and in the gubernatorial race in Virginia in November.

Several committee members who spoke to The Washington Times after the vote said the race likely turned on presentation, with Mr. Greer making easily the most effective pitch to the Rules Committee members and having considerable “whip” help from Steele staff.

Mr. Haugland, who read his election-appeal speech, left few members impressed. Mr. Ash, considered the only real threat to Mr. Greer and therefore to Mr. Steele’s sway over members, delivered a tepid pitch, with Rules Committee members saying he never quite told members why they should vote for him or what he would do.

“You can tell from the results, I didn’t do a very good job of selling myself,” Mr. Ash told The Times afterward.

Asked whether he was offered any inducements by Mr. Steele or Steele aides to tone down his appeal for votes to head the Rules Committee, Mr. Ash said, “No, and if they had offered me something on the side I would have” been more emphatic and used an expletive.

Members said Mr. Steele’s whip team did as good a job as they have seen any previous chairman’s team do in corralling votes for Mr. Steele’s candidate, offering inducements and side deals rather than threats and intimidation.

The Steele team described the Rules Committee as the primary body responsible for the governance of the RNC, and therefore “the choice should be the chairman’s prerogative.”

“It worked,” Mr. Haugland said.

But some RNC members are still reserving judgment about Mr. Steele because the Rules Committee chairman also serves on the RNC’s Executive Board, which has a say over major contracts and other decisions.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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