The race for Republican National Committee chairman took a turn Tuesday when political director Gentry Collins released a five-page letter of resignation and rebuke that he sent to Chairman Michael Steele.
Committee members had already begun searching for candidates to challenge Steele as chairman at the January winter meeting, but the letter attacking Steele’s leadership pushed that search into high gear.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for the Steele campaign to survive the Collins letter,” RNC Committeeman Morton Blackwell said Tuesday in an interview with Roll Call.
Blackwell, a senior and conservative member from Virginia, formally endorsed Michigan Committeeman Saul Anuzis for chairman on Monday in a letter to colleagues. Anuzis finished third in the 2009 race behind Steele and then-South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson.
“Saul is the best one to keep together and strengthen the coalition that did so well,” Blackwell said. In the wake of the letter, though, Blackwell said there could be eight to 10 others considering a run.
One such candidate is Maria Cino, a Transportation Department appointee under President George W. Bush and CEO of the 2008 Republican National Convention. Blackwell said he received a call from Cino and had heard that she was calling other members “asking for support.”
Many more names have been mentioned as potential candidates, including Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, who told Roll Call last week he was seriously considering running. Others include Dawson, who did not return a message, and Collins, who the Washington Post reported is weighing a bid.
One of the many criticisms Collins listed in his resignation letter was that the party lacked a fully funded ground operation and potentially left 21 House seats, two Senate seats and three governorships on the table. On top of that, Collins wrote, “The RNC’s vaunted 72-hour program was left largely un-funded.”
In a questionnaire issued by Blackwell to six chairman candidates before the January 2009 election, Steele’s first answer focused on the importance of a well-funded and organized ground game.
Blackwell was also displeased by the races Republicans were unable to win. Because of financial constraints, he said the RNC could not to set up shop in the Northern Virginia-based 11th district as the committee did in the three Democratic districts in the state that the GOP picked up. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) won by fewer than 1,000 votes, and Blackwell said a strong ground operation from the RNC could have made the difference.
“I think the Democratic Party and the forces on the left had a better ground game and the resources weren’t there,” Blackwell said.
An RNC spokesman declined to comment on the chairman's race.
Other names mentioned as potential candidates for RNC chairman include: Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, former Nevada Gov. Robert List, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
“The field for RNC Chairman is developing slowly and the Gentry Collins memo certainly changed the dynamics of the race,” Mississippi Committeeman Henry Barbour said in an e-mail.