- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010

HONOLULU | The Republican National Committee and its campaign management experts will be available to give advice but will let candidates for statewide office calls the shots in their races this November, RNC Political Director Gentry Collins said Wednesday.

Candidates and their staffs have routinely complained in the past that Washington-based GOP operatives - with little knowledge of local issues or the idiosyncrasies of local electorates - try to dictate strategy, tactics and the message of the local campaign, sometimes rubbing the candidates, campaign workers and voters the wrong way.

“We will offer advice but not micromanage,” Mr. Collins said.

GOP victories in several high-profile contests so far in the 2009-10 election cycle have helped the party to recruit “top-notch candidates” for the November congressional and gubernatorial races, Mr. Collins told reporters at a briefing on the first day of the four-day annual RNC winter meeting in Hawaii.

The gathering - which in recent years had been held in Washington - is proving an unusually felicitous venue for a party that sees itself on the upswing. Daytime highs here have run in the upper 70s and nights in the upper 60s.

Mr. Collins said the choice of Hawaii for the meetings was dictated by important elections here this fall - but the same can be said about virtually every other state. Some RNC members have said selecting Hawaii was RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele’s quid pro quo for the support of state Republicans in his hard-fought election as party head a year ago.

To the irritation of some fellow Republican officials, Mr. Steele has claimed much of the credit for the victories that the party has rung up in recent months, including gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia in November and the stunning upset win in the Massachusetts special Senate election earlier this month.

In briefing reporters Wednesday, Mr. Collins, a veteran political operative from Iowa who worked in the presidential campaigns of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, refrained from claiming major RNC credit for those victories.

It was simmering tensions within the RNC over Mr. Steele’s performance as party leader that have drawn much of the national political press corps to this year’s meeting at the Hilton Hotel on Waikiki Beach, even though only 120 of the RNC’s 168 members opted to attend.

Two of Mr. Steele’s rivals for the top RNC post a year ago - one the former South Carolina party chairman and the other the former Michigan GOP chairman - are here, just in case a row breaks out between Mr. Steele and his critics on the national committee and Mr. Steele resigns or is forced out.

A member of the Illinois state GOP central committee established a “dumpsteele.com” Web site that lists what it says are Mr. Steele’s gaffes and transgressions as chairman. But it is unclear whether the Web site and other grumbling about Mr. Steele, the first black to head the party, has put his job in danger.

Members who once said privately they would like to see him go now say a coup is unlikely, just 10 months before midterm elections where Republicans increasingly are banking on major gains.

Mr. Steele has faced sharp internal criticism over private paid speaking engagements and a promotional tour for a book he wrote while he also serves full time as party chairman.

Critics have prepared motions directing Mr. Steele to halt the book tour, turn proceeds from the book’s sale over to the RNC and cease making paid speeches to corporations and clubs around the country. They maintain Mr. Steele, who receives a $223,500 annual salary and unlimited expenses, is violating the ethics clauses of the RNC’s employee rule book with his private business dealings.

Mr. Steele has vigorously defended himself, saying many previous chairmen have done the same thing.

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