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Money Defines RNC Chairman’s Job, Panelists Say

Tom Williams/Roll Call
A panel of potential challengers to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke on Wednesday afternoon.

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.

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