Recognizing that Republican primary battles in 2010 ended with some critical general election losses, the candidates who want to lead the national party through the next cycle said Monday they would again stay out of primaries and stressed the GOP must remain a big tent party.
The hopefuls vying to be the Republican National Committee’s next chairman promoted their own records and talked about the need to unite establishment and tea party Republicans for 2012 as they debated Monday. The candidates also stressed a desire to give state parties some autonomy to run campaigns back home.
Five of the six candidates are former party chairmen, and party chairmen make up a third of the RNC’s membership. Chairman Michael Steele said no longer sending Capitol Hill staffers to battleground states 72 hours before the election and sending funding to all 50 states in 2010 were part of his effort to give states the freedom to make their own political choices.
“At the end of the day, the national party’s role is to stay out of the state party’s business when it comes to the election of their nominees for office, period,” Steele said. “Our rules are very clear about that.”
Each candidate straddled the line between holding Republican candidates to a strict party platform and welcoming people who might disagree with that platform. All said they would promote social conservative values, and all said they’d agree to a pledge that would require candidates who change party allegiances to return money from the RNC. The current chairman, though, cautioned the others about demanding purity in candidates.
“We cannot be a party that sits back with a litmus test and excludes,” Steele said. “A national chairman cannot go into a state and say you’re less Republican than you are.”
In 2010, several tea-party-backed candidates won Republican primaries, with most political observers believing that cost the party at least two Senate seats. Conservative groups say they don’t plan to back off in 2012, with potential primary threats on the horizon to sitting GOP Members.
Monday’s debate finally put on display the man all the candidates have been running against. Steele went from being the elephant in the room in a December debate to being present and ready to defend his record.
“My record stands for itself,” Steele said. “We won. I was asked to win elections, I was asked to raise money, $192 million over the last two years.”
Since he was elected in January 2009, Steele has been criticized for alienating donors, not raising enough funds, spending funds in places where some strategists felt Republicans couldn’t win, and dividing his time between the chairmanship and other priorities. RNC members were surprised when he announced in December that he would run for re-election, even as the field to replace him became crowded and his former allies starting endorsing his rivals. Steele has emphasized Republicans’ successes in Congressional and gubernatorial elections across the country in 2009 and 2010 as evidence he should be re-elected, but he lost two top staffers on Monday and has scant support for re-election.
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