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Six seek Republican National Committee chair

By A. James Memmott

January 11, 2009 at 9:40pm

After a tough election, it’s a little surprising that anyone would want to be chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But there are six contenders for the spot, two of whom happen to be African-American.

Either J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s former secretary of state, or Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, could become the first African-American to lead the party.

This would happen after a presidential election that saw Sen. Barack Obama, an African-American, win with 96 percent of the African-American vote.

“If the nation can celebrate its first African-American president, I would certainly think the Republican Party could celebrate its first African-American chairman,” Jim Greer, the Florida Republican chairman, told The New York Times. “There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman.”

The 168-member committee will elect its chairman at the end of the month. The other candidates, each a white male, are:

Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, the current chairman; Katon Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party; Saul Anuzis, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party; and John “Chip” Saltsman, the former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party and the manager of the 2008 Mike Huckabee presidential campaign.

A frequent commentator on Fox News, Steele may be the most recognizable of the contenders.

A lawyer, he was elected lieutenant governor in Maryland in 2002. He then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2006 against Democrat Ben Cardin.

He is seen as the most moderate of the six candidates, a strike against him, according to some commentators.

Steele’s also the only one of the six who acknowledged, in a debate, that he doesn’t own guns.

“Can true Conservatives trust a man who doesn’t pack heat?” asked columnist Kathleen Parker.

Blackwell is OK in the gun compartment - he said he has seven. And he claims to have 4,000 Facebook friends, more than any other candidate.

The former mayor of Cincinnati, Blackwell served in the George H.W. Bush administration. He was also the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

After being appointed Ohio state treasurer to fill a vacancy, he was elected in his own right in 1994. He was then elected secretary of state in 1998 and again in 2002.

As the state’s chief elections official during the 2004 presidential campaign, he made several rulings that angered Democrats.

Blackwell, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in Ohio in 2006, has a strong base among social conservatives in the Republican Party for his opposition to abortion.

According to reports, each of the other four candidates has strengths and weaknesses:

Duncan is liked, but his prospects for re-election suffer from the fact that George W. Bush picked him for the job in 2007.

Dawson has led a strong Republican Party organization in South Carolina. The revelation that he was a member of a “whites-only” golf club before resigning last September has hurt his candidacy.

Saltsman helped the Republican Party in Tennessee take back the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. But he controversially sent a Christmas CD to friends last year that contained the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro.”

Anuzis describes himself as an “unabashed Reagan-conservative” and “one of the most tech savvy chairmen in the country.” He’s also from Michigan, which went strongly for Obama.

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