MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (CNN) - It’s no secret that South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson is moving towards a run at the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. But before entering what is shaping up to be a crowded field, Dawson is convening Republican officials from around the country this weekend in Myrtle Beach for “a conference to chart the future of our party.”
Though former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele and Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis have both officially declared their candidacy for the position, Dawson said he won’t formally decided to enter the RNC race until “a later date.” In the meantime, the garrulous Southerner plans to spend the weekend brainstorming with Republican strategists, state party chairs and RNC committee members on ways to improve on the GOP’s dismal performance on November 4.
“We certainly had some real bright spots in the Republican Party over the last election cycle, but we had a lot of bad news, so right now we are analyzing the situation and hope to make an announcement in the future,” he said.
In an interview with CNN, Dawson reflected on the presidential election and marveled at the potency and breadth of Barack Obama’s campaign organization, particularly their ability to maximize early voting in over 30 states to get their voters to the polls.
“Intrinsically, we got beat 35 days out,” he said. “We’ve got a 72-hour program that worked for us in 2000 and 2004. And now it’s a 35-day program, and voting now is early voting. That was a strategy they used that caught us.”
He said his party faces a technological deficit, but it’s a weakness he thinks can be overcome in just one year, before the next big round of national elections in 2010. That may be a difficult task against a Democratic president with an email list 10 million strong.
“We’re going to have to up-fit the Republican Party, or re-boot it as they’ve said on TV, and move forward,” he said, noting the Obama campaign’s use of cell phone technology, Internet fundraising and fresh marketing techniques.
He also acknowledged that Republicans need to find ways to reach out to minority groups like African-Americans and Hispanics, two constituencies that McCain lost badly in a historic election.
“You’re just not going to look at just one section of the electorate, and I think just targeting outreach to one section won’t work,” he said.
Ultimately, Dawson stressed that Republicans can win election by returning to the party’s basic principles, with a specific focus on “values” and limited government, instead of big spending.
“When we do that, we win,” he said, pointing to down-ballot state house wins in Southern states like South Carolina and Tennessee.
Pushing back against Obama’s plans for “bigger government,” he predicted, will be “a major argument in the next 24 months.”
As for social issues: “Obviously, principles are important to me and values are important to me. And I think that’s one of the popularities that Sarah Palin brought to the ticket that re-energized our base and our party and our volunteers. Maybe not enough and too late, but it will take that, along with strategies, and certainly we’re going to have to look at the new strategies that Barack Obama’s campaign used.”
The good news, Dawson said, is that a fleet of new GOP faces are ready to help polish the GOP brand in the coming years. In particular, he named younger Republican legislators like Palin, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Rep. Gresham Barrett, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as future faces of the party.