RealClearPolitics Cross Tabs Blog

« The True Bush Legacy | Cross Tabs Blog Home Page | Memo to GOP: Don't Cave on the Stimulus »

RNC Chair Race Reaches Finish Line

By Greg Bobrinskoy

With this Friday's RNC Chair election fast approaching, the divide between what committee members are looking for has come down to the two buzzwords of competency versus change. The race has been seen as a virtual tie among two or three candidates all along because no candidate has convincingly proved himself a man of both attributes. The current Pledged Vote race according to Your RNC stands at Duncan: 36, Dawson: 19, Steele: 18, Anuzis: 16, Blackwell: 13, Saltsman: 0.

Atop the competency column lies incumbent Mike Duncan whom every committee member supporting him says is the best fundraiser, organizer, and leader of what one committee chairman argued is basically a $300 million corporation to be run for the next two years. While change was what everyone originally looked for, he said, it is now competency. As one committee member stated, "Most members of the committee went in after the previous election wanting change, wanting a chairman of Romney, Gingrich, Jeb Bush. But as we got farther away from the two election cycles people realized that Superman's not running and the most important quality is competence to run the rebuilding of the party, raise money, and spend it wisely." Duncan needs competency to rule the day on Friday.

Close behind Duncan in reputation for competency is Katon Dawson who frequently speaks of his long time involvement in the RNC and his success in turning around the Republican South Carolina Party. National Committee Chairwoman Demetra DeMonte, who has endorsed Dawson, told RCP yesterday that Katon "is a nuts and bolts guy. He knows the importance of organization, he's great at raising money and getting Republicans elected." Dawson knows that Duncan is the establishment, experienced pick and thus has also tried very hard to attain the 'change' label as well - citing his ability to grow the party's grassroots infrastructure. Dawson seems to have impressed many in one-on-one conversations with committee members, showcasing his very likable, gracious personality. Yet to no fault of his own, Dawson is exactly what some members seeking change are not looking for: a white southerner - especially one who's only national exposure had been news about his previous membership in an all white country club. An attack piece was distributed this week picturing what USA Today's headline would be if Dawson were to win.

Atop the Change column is Michael Steele. He has continued to impress Committee members with communication skills many had witnessed during his frequent appearances on Fox News. National Committeeman Pat Brady told RCP he endorsed Steele "because it's very important that the Republican Party have the best possible messenger, and that person is Steele". Not many outside of the race would disagree with that, the question is whether Steele's previous endorsements of moderates in the party and questionable fundraising skills will significantly hurt him. While Steele has not framed his campaign around his race, he does have the notable advantage of being an African American in a party desperately needing to bring in minority voters in future elections. His election to RNC Chair would be the surest 'Change' message the RNC could send to voters.

As mentioned in our previous update, Saul Anuzis of Michigan, Duncan, and Dawson have an important advantage in being RNC committee members themselves because members often like to pick one of their own. One potential variable is whether a thirst for change will cause an opposite effect this time around.

The importance of this election should not be overlooked. The RNC Chair will control the party's agenda for the next two years and unlike the previous eight, there will be no one above him in the party's ranks. The election held Friday will be determined by the vote of 168 RNC committee members. A majority of the voters, 85, is needed to win on the first ballot. Rumors circulated earlier this week that Steele and Duncan had made a deal in which Duncan would throw his support to Steele if he does not win on the first ballot, something many believe is crucial to his chances. Steele categorically denied the rumor, saying he declined the request out of hand.

Depending on who you talk to, the top tier candidates vary from Duncan and Dawson, Duncan and Steele, or all three with some even throwing Anuzis in third place. Ken Blackwell looks to be behind all three and Chip Saltsman is considered all but finished. This election looks to be a nail biter.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an associate editor at RealClearPolitics.