January 5th, 2009
07:51 AM ET
13 years ago

Republican party showdown today

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/05/art.getty.bush.podium.jpg caption="President Bush assumed the role of the national leader of the Republican Party during his two presidential terms."]WASHINGTON DC (CNN) - Call it a first step in the Republican Party's push to return from the political wilderness.

The six candidates running to lead the GOP's national committee face off today at a debate in Washington. The debate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee comes two months after the party lost the White House and lost seats in both houses of Congress. It also comes on the day that President-elect Barack Obama, just back from vacation, spends his first full day in nation's capitol as he prepares to take over the presidency.

The challenge for which ever of the six candidates who wins the chairmanship is to broaden the party's appeal with younger voters and minority voters. Republicans fared poorly with both groups at the polls in November. The party also needs to improve its appeal to moderate voters and to voters in the Northeast and the West, two regions where the GOP was basically shutout in the general election.

The debate, which will take place at the National Press Club, is being hosted by Americans for Tax Reform, a coalition of taxpayer groups, businesses and individuals opposed to higher taxes. Grover Norquist, ATR's president and a leader among fiscal conservatives, organized the debate and will serve as moderator.

Norquist says the candidates will all be asked the same questions, some of which will come from bloggers and party activists. Norquist wants to know what "the candidates have done in the past and what they would do as RNC chairman" on such subjects as technology, illegal immigration, and appealing to younger voters.

"My goal is to let the candidates showcase themselves," says Norquist.

The showdown, according to Norquist, will also the first time there will be a public debate for the chairmanship of the Republican party. It will be followed later in the week by two unprecedented behind-closed-doors meetings of RNC members to discuss the candidates. Later in the month, the 168 RNC members will vote for the new chairman. It's the first open race for the chairmanship in over a decade, as President Bush has recommended the party chairmen since his first election as president eight years ago.

“There is essentially no national leader of the Republican Party right now,” said CNN Political Editor Mark Preston. “President Bush assumed that role during his two terms in the White House, and the next RNC chair has the opportunity to lead the rebuilding and perhaps the reshaping of the Republican Party.”

The candidate making the most news lately is Chip Saltsman. Last month the former Tennessee GOP party chairman and the campaign manager of Mike Huckabee's presidential run sent party members a CD that included a parody song titled "Barack the Magic Negro." At a time that the party is trying to broaden its appeal to minorities and moderates, Saltsman's move was criticized by former House Speaker and Republican party elder Newt Gingrich. It was also criticized by Mike Duncan, the current RNC chairman who's running for re-election.

“I can’t imagine that he was trying to deliver a divisive, racist message by sending that CD to the RNC members,” Preston said. “In all of my dealings with him, I never detected anything like that. But it was a tone deaf move and the controversy can’t help him.”

The other candidates sharing the stage at the press club are two other state Republican party chairmen, Saul Anuzis of Michigan and Katon Dawson of South Carolina, former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

“Every one of these candidates is conservative,” Preston said. “The next RNC chair is going to be the one person who is able to rise above the pack and preach a conservative ideology at the same time offering a game plan to win back Congress and a majority of the state capitals in 2010 and the White House in 2012.”

Regardless of who wins the chairmanship, Norquist wants this public debate format to become the standard operating produce in the future, even under a future Republican president.

But that's for a future chapter. First things first.

Filed under: RNC
soundoff (136 Responses)
  1. Scott NYC Independent

    @Don Alexander Carson City Nevada – yeah let's play the GOP corruption games – I see your five democrates and raise you 13 corrupt republicans:

    Gov. Matt Blunt (MO)
    Rep. Roy Blunt (MO), House Republican Whip
    Gov. Ernie Fletcher (KY)
    Gov. Bob Taft (OH)
    Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (OH)
    Rep. Bob Ney (OH)
    Ralph Regula (OH)
    Gov. Frank Murkowski (AK)
    GOP official and fundraiser Thomas Noe (OH)
    Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham (CA)
    Rep. Jerry Lewis (CA)
    Rep. John Doolittle (CA)
    State Treasurer Lorelee Byrd (NE)

    January 5, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  2. pam Eugene OR

    Good luck with this one. I am very interested in who they choose to lead them. If "Barack the Magic Negro" is any indication that the Republicans want an inclusive party you sure fooled me.
    If the Republicans do not seek open debate to include non whites and young people they will wander in the dark for many years.
    They might want to consider a rebranding and possibly a new name for their party.

    January 5, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  3. Larry in Houston

    I hate to be the one to give bad tidings, but it will be at LEAST 2020
    before we get a Republican in the White House, period.....

    They may be the majority in the House and/or Senate sometime in the Future, but definitely NOT in the White House.....

    It will be a Democrat til then...

    Larry C.
    Houston, Texas

    January 5, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. Patrick

    I'd much rather have the republicans discuss their strategy and direction in public than in some back room someplace. The back room approach gave us the double speak, wedge issue, with us or against us polarization we've seen since the 80's. It's not helpful. There is a point to actual conservatism. This is not the time for that brand of tough love, but there is a point. However, what the GOP has been pushing isn't conservatism, it's mean spirited divisiveness and scorched earth politics.

    I hope they give up on the social engineering and just preach their platform. Winning at all costs costs more than America can afford.

    January 5, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. Ex-Republican

    Noah January 5th, 2009 10:59 am ET

    How quickly Liberals forget history. Have they forgotten that in the past 40 years, America has elected 7 Republicans to the Presidency compared to only 4 Democrats?
    Couldn't have said it better Noah: And look at where we are because of it? Two wars and an economy that is the worst since the great depression. Perhaps it's time we stop electing conservatives, ya think?

    January 5, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. Grimm

    I sincerely hope that the GOP can get back to its true roots. Only then will it be able to rise from the ashes of its divisiveness and polarizing backlash.

    January 5, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Terri

    I agree, it will be interesting to see how the GOP will try to appeal to those groups of voters. I don't see them making inroads with those groups anytime soon.

    January 5, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  8. Tony

    15 days and counting! GOODBYE George. Worst president this country has ever had! SAY NO TO EVER PUTTING ANOTHER BUSH IN POWER!

    January 5, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  9. shoegazer

    The GOP trying to return from the political wilderness?As anybody out there ever been to one of those"corn mazes"?

    January 5, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  10. Love Huckabee

    The republicans are clueless. I was almost leaning repub at one time, but as a black female they always inject racial topics into everything. Why must race come up in half of republican discussions. Can why are they going after Blackwell and Steele, these two black guys are just there to gloss over the fact that the RNC lacks diversity. I'm a born again christian, and muslim is not a bad word, even though I don't agree with their beliefs. Never again, this happy now independent voted for Obama and will campaign for him. He's more christian than Guliani, Sarah Palin, and Dobeson put together.

    I thought to myself, if those R-idiots think that going further right is going to help, they they have another thing coming. What Rush and Hannity fail to realize, is that the country is tired of old angy white men who embrace big business. If Sarah Palin was able to get McCain more votes because he was not conservative enough, then why did he go from being 49% in polls to being 42% in the polls. Why did 60% of the country think she was unqualified. If republicans are so good at big business, the why aren't they trusted with the economy.

    I am not fan of GWB, but at least he seem like he tried. Let's be honest, he's stubborn, he shots from the hip, he's not smart, and he's not a good business man, but his party is what sunk him. He can thank Rove and Cheney for his demise, and I hope Cheney ends up in jail one day.

    January 5, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  11. chuck

    "The candidate making the most news lately is Chip Saltsman. Last month the former Tennessee GOP party chairman and the campaign manager of Mike Huckabee's presidential run sent party members a C.D. that included a parody song titled "Barack the Magic Negro"." That quote from this story speaks volumes about the true Republican party. Chip Saltsman is no idiot. He knows his target audience better than most and knows exactly what they crave – bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia just to name a few. I think they have found their man. The challenge for the new chairmanship is to broaden the party's appeal with younger voters and minorities. They need to come out of denial (through therapy) and realize that there is no appeal to broaden and they will have better luck in the next four years trying to get a square peg through a round hole.

    January 5, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6