Money Defines RNC Chairman’s Job, Panelists Say

If a panel of four potential candidates for chairman of the Republican National Committee is any indication, the job at stake is all about money.

Though the panelists refused to call out Chairman Michael Steele for his fundraising in the 2010 cycle, their emphasis on winning back donors who abandoned the RNC this year was an implicit criticism. Steele has been criticized in GOP circles for alienating donors and for spending too much money without raising enough funds to make up the difference.

Former RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner, former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins, former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis and former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan participated in the panel before an audience of about 200, but only Wagner and Anuzis have officially announced their bids.

Duncan was a last-minute addition to the panel. He served as chairman from 2007 to 2009, when he lost his re-election bid. Since then, he has run American Crossroads, the 527 group with which Republican strategist Karl Rove is affiliated. Anuzis also ran for RNC chairman in 2009 and fell short to Steele.

The panel was a preliminary look at a field that’s still developing leading up to the RNC’s mid-January election. The RNC chairmanship will be important in 2011 as the party’s leader tries to regain the confidence of large donors who redirected their resources to third-party groups and other Republican committees during the 2010 cycle. The next chairman will oversee the national party’s efforts in redistricting and offer guidance in the four states that have off-year elections in 2011.

However, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee is likely to install his or her own leader at the RNC.

Wednesday afternoon’s question-and-answer session was sponsored by the Republican National Conservative Caucus, which is composed of 26 RNC committee members, and FreedomWorks, which is affiliated with the tea party movement. Two moderators asked the questions, most of which came from members of the audience and online viewers.

To an early question about the RNC’s inability to drive turnout in 2010, each candidate came back to fundraising. “It takes two things to win an election,” Anuzis said, “money and everything else.”

“I’ve been saying for a few days now, it’s money first, it’s money second, it’s money third,” Wagner said.

Collins said the committee would have to raise $400 million to $425 million in the 2012 cycle. “I think the way to fix it — and frankly the only way to fix it — is to have a chairman who is laser-focused on raising the money,” he said.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics. There’s not too much money in politics, there’s not enough money,” Duncan said, later joking that a predecessor said his best days in the job were the first and the last. Duncan added that his experience would make him the best chairman going forward.

What wasn’t said was as telling as what was. Steele wasn’t mentioned by name until nearly an hour and a half into the two-hour session. The current chairman hasn’t decided whether he will run for re-election, but an Associated Press survey of RNC members found that a significant number of them would prefer he didn’t.

Also significant were those who have been mentioned for the job but didn’t participate in the forum, including former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus and 2008 Republican National Convention CEO Maria Cino. The conservative caucus is planning a private interview session with potential candidates and its members on Thursday morning, and Coleman and Cino confirmed they would attend.

The four candidates at the panel agreed they would avoid interfering in Republican primaries. They also agreed they would require refunds from candidates who accept RNC funding, lose their primaries, and then run as independents or endorse candidates from another party.

Moderator Max Pappas, vice president of public policy at FreedomWorks, read a question submitted online about the earmark ban the Senate recently voted down with the help of eight GOP Senators. The questioner asked how the RNC chairman could restore donors’ trust in the party when Republican officials don’t support the party’s platform.

While each panelist affirmed his or her support for ending earmarks, Anuzis went a step farther when he encouraged activists who don’t agree with sitting Republican officials to challenge them in primaries.

The panel was a move toward including the tea party movement and other Republican voters in the 168-member RNC’s decision-making process. FreedomWorks streamed the forum online and accepted questions via Facebook and Twitter.

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