Look for a major shift to a decentralized Republican National Committee now that Michael Steele is chairman.
When George W. Bush was president, he called the shots at the RNC, and his approach created a top-down operation that focused on 28 key states. That worked in 2000 and 2004 but not in 2006 and 2008.
In campaigning for RNC chairman, Steele has said in private conversations that he will decentralize the RNC and emphasize organizing the grass roots of the party.
Asked about that just before his election, Steele told Newsmax, “Grass roots — that’s the bottom line. We’re not going to gain any ground unless they’re engaged, period. You can talk all day long about a whole lot of different things, but if the next chairman, the moment they get that gavel, doesn’t have anything to say to the grass roots of this party, we’re going to have a tough row to hoe. So we better be prepared to hit the ground running with a vision and a message.”
Steele is a charismatic, well-known figure. He is a smart, forceful straight-talker. The fact that he is black means Republicans can share in the euphoria that surrounds Barack Obama.
"If the nation can celebrate the first African-American president, I would think the Republican Party would celebrate if we had the opportunity to celebrate an African-American national chairman," Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said before the vote at the RNC's 2009 Winter Meeting.
But in the long run, the former Maryland lieutenant governor’s shift in emphasis may be equally important. Currently, about $100 million of the party’s $300 million annual budget goes to Republican state parties and offices. Giovanni Cicione, the Rhode Island party chairman, says his office is so starved for funds that it has had to shut down for six months at a time.
“There’s a basic level of operational adequacy that we can’t meet,” Cicione says. “And the most telling problem is that we can’t keep good staff consistently over a period of years. After elections when our coffers are dry, a lot of times we have to knock staff down to part time, or even have periods without a staff, and you lose momentum; you lose institutional knowledge; and you’re playing catch-up when it comes down to the months leading up to Election Day.”
Cicione says Steele understands the problem and will address it.
“I think he [Steele] is great on this, and this is clearly a new direction for the party,” Cicione says. “In conversations I had with him, he directly addressed the concerns that I’ve raised. Obviously, he’s going to come up with a plan to transition the party from that singular national focus to something more broad based. It’s not going to happen overnight. But I really believe, and he’s told me directly, that he is committed to make that happen as quickly and as effectively as possible.”
“Steele won’t tell local offices how to run their operations,” Andrew Langer, a Maryland Republican Party official who is a Steele supporter, says. “He doesn’t want people from Washington telling people in the states and counties how to do their jobs. Instead, he wants the RNC to do whatever it can to support them in order to seek victory.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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