January, 13th 2011

RNC Chairman’s Race, One Day Out: Candidate Assets and Liabilities

– Liz Mair

Tomorrow, 168 members of the Republican National Committee will convene to elect a Chairman to lead the organization over its next two-year term. 

The incumbent, Michael Steele, faces odds so bad in his attempt to win a second turn at bat that many RNC observers have questioned just why he has remained in the race to-date; universally, he is expected to fall short of the votes needed to win tomorrow.  Thus, speculation has turned to the other four contenders as on-lookers try to handicap their respective chances. 

Meanwhile, as Friday’s vote looms, many ordinary Republicans, grassroots activists and so on are just now thinking seriously about the possible outcome of the race and the strengths and weaknesses of the various contenders.  Here’s a rundown of the arguments for and against each—a list of assets and liabilities, if you will—that have been invoked and debated throughout the race, as anonymously shared with yours truly by those involved in the race as candidates, operatives and voters.  

Who will emerge victorious?  Tune in tomorrow—potentially very late-- for the answer.

Ann Wagner

Assets: Wagner—a former RNC Co-Chair and former Missouri GOP Chairman-- is a candidate broadly seen as capable of taking the RNC in hand on day one, and getting it back on track.  

Supporters say she has the fundraising chops needed to deal with the RNC’s debt situation swiftly, and then get on with raising hundreds of millions of dollars in short order.  Her “Transition Plan” released earlier in the week provides a sufficient level of detail for members to have confidence in her ability to set about making improvements on day one. 

Wagner backers say she offers a clean break from the Steele era, both in that she was in no way involved in his administration, and in that she’d take a much more hard-nosed, and less lax, approach to management. 

She is acceptably conservative to those for whom that is a consideration, and more importantly, will be neutral in the presidential contest.

Liabilities: Wagner is seen as perhaps more of a lightweight than she’d like committee members to believe.  Her performance in the first debate demonstrated this to a point, according to some. 

Skeptics say she may also be overbaking her achievements in the context of the 2004 campaign somewhat.  That, in particular, if true could have a bearing on her fundraising prowess when tested, especially as the political environment now is different from 2004, and she could find herself feeling more out of the loop than she expected. 

However, Wagner’s biggest disadvantage by far is that not being a current member of the committee, she is just not as well-known as some other contenders—so it’s less certain on a gut level to members what they might get with her.

Maria Cino

Assets: Cino—a longtime high-level GOP operative—is near-universally trusted and regarded as a conscientious steward of money, someone with excellent connections inside and outside the nation’s capital that can and will be leveraged for fundraising and staffing purposes should she win, and boatloads of experience.  In short, Cino gets stuff done—no matter how hard or complicated. 

Cino knows how to run a massive political operation and not screw it up, and many agree that she has provided more detail early on as to how she would do just that as RNC Chairman than other candidates.  In many respects, this characteristic distinguishes her from Steele.  She will be neutral in the presidential contest.  John Boehner obviously thinks he can work with her, otherwise he would not be urging committee members to support her candidacy.

Liabilities: Cino is not, and never has been, a member of the committee, so she is neither a member of the RNC club nor as well-known on a personal level as other candidates. 

She is an operative, and a highly-regarded one, but some members query whether that is the same thing as a leader in practice. 

Cino has close connections to a plethora of lobbyists and is in many ways an overt Washington insider.  She is also more moderate. 

John Boehner—himself not a member of the committee—has pushed strongly for members to back her, and more overtly in some cases than Cino herself-- that could be a hindrance as well as a help.

Reince Priebus

Assets: Priebus, the Wisconsin GOP Chairman, has benefited from strong, public backing from at least one member of the well-respected and trusted Barbour family: Henry, nephew of Haley Barbour, himself something of a Jedi Master of Republican politics.  So, Priebus keeps good company and some believe that benefits do and will continue to flow from that. 

Wisconsin Republicans won their races in 2010, and backers believe Priebus brought in a good amount of money and handled it well as Chairman. 

Priebus has the firsthand knowledge that supporters say should enable him to avoid making the mistakes Steele did.  He is reportedly well-liked by Tea Partiers in Wisconsin.

Liabilities: Priebus was Steele’s right-hand man and biggest defender until surprisingly recently-- something that a lot of members have struggled with, and which has kept many of them wary of getting behind him. Moreover, he has the backing of many of the consultants blamed for bringing down the RNC and contributing to its problems under Steele.  

Priebus has arguably oversold his fundraising strength quite markedly, and his prowess when it comes to bringing in money is, critics charge, more dependent on others’ assistance than in the case of other candidates. 

Priebus strikes some as just a bit green for the job and seems to see his desired role as involving aspects best left to elected Republican leaders.  His “greenness” plus the Barbour connections and reliance on others to assist with fundraising have caused some concern that he would be less neutral than other candidates with regard to the 2012 presidential race, and in particular should Haley Barbour run.  Priebus has also reportedly run a more negative campaign than other contenders.

Saul Anuzis

Assets: You know that show "Everyone Hates Chris?"  Well, a basic rule with regard to RNC members is that everyone likes Anuzis-- at least on a personal level.  He is the most sociable candidate, the one members know best, the one that most of them are likely to consider a pal, and--critically-- the one they’ve heard from the most in this race.

Anuzis has run a state party in a fairly large, blue-leaning state, and knows firsthand the political and personal value of hard work.  Backers say he will focus on fundraising, and is better versed in technology than any other candidate.  He has support from some conservative and Tea Party quarters.  He has been explicit, including in debates, in underlining that he will do things differently than Steele.

Liabilities: Anuzis is easy to see as a fun-loving buddy, and therefore harder for some members to see as a leader. 

He also does not represent quite as clean a break from Steele as some members would like; he did maintain a leadership position within the RNC under Steele’s tenure. 

Anuzis’ previous leadership of the Michigan GOP saw him advocate for the Michigan primary in a way that has troubled certain early primary state members. 

His stewardship of the Michigan GOP, and particularly its finances, was not as robust as some members would have hoped (in 2008, the party was notably outraised by its Democratic counterpart and wound up in the red). 

The divisive nature of Michigan GOP politics in recent years has led to Anuzis taking sides in presidential contests—a potential neutrality concern, as may be signals that certain prospective 2012 candidates would default to backing him in set circumstances. 

Critics of Anuzis have alleged he has also worked as a political consultant (though it's worth noting Anuzis backers say that is an inaccurate assertion and stipulate that he has done business, not political, consulting).  Critics also charge that he has associated himself with causes that some conservatives, in particular, take issue with (for example, over the last 48 hours especially, attacks on Anuzis focused on his alleged advocacy for changing the methodology of presidential elections have been lobbed about).

The latest RNC Chairman-related news prior to posting is that New Hampshire Chairman John Sununu-- himself a very big deal in Republican politics-- has decided to get behind Reince Priebus in the race.  In terms of declared votes, that makes Priebus the heavy frontrunner heading into tomorrow.

However, in contests like these with multiple rounds of voting, no candidate can truly be ruledout before things get moving.  Expect plenty of action today as deals are cut and votes are whipped.  One way or another, there will be a new Chairman tomorrow.

Liz note: The final paragraph on Anuzis liabilities has been updated with further detail relevant to his consulting work. [intro]



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