By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006; A13
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who guided President Bush's reelection campaign to victory in 2004 and saw his party suffer the loss of the House and Senate on Tuesday, will not seek a second term as party leader, informed sources said last night.
Mehlman is leaving his position voluntarily and has not come under any pressure from the White House or state party leaders to vacate his position as a result of Tuesday's elections. According to a Republican strategist familiar with developments at the RNC, Mehlman told the White House in August that he would leave after the elections.
Mehlman met with reporters yesterday to review the midterm elections at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor and was asked whether he planned to stay on as party chairman. He declined to answer directly but said, "I will announce soon what my plan is in the future."
White House officials are trying to recruit a successor, but it was not known last night whether there was a leading candidate. One name that has emerged is that of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who just lost a bid for the Senate. But a GOP source said Steele is not likely to become chairman.
Others mentioned publicly as possible successors include Maria Cino, a former RNC official and now deputy secretary of transportation, and Mary Matalin, former communications director for Vice President Cheney and one of the party's most visible advocates. But a GOP strategist said, "From what I understand, all these names are not on the table."
Mehlman has spent the past seven years helping to advance the electoral fortunes of Bush and the Republican Party.
Assigned to help organize the Iowa caucuses in the 2000 campaign, he quickly rose through the ranks. He has been a protege and confidant of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and a key member of the Republican team that, until this week, had proved to be one of the most successful political units in modern American history.
Mehlman was named White House political director when the president arrived in Washington in 2001 and was elevated to campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in 2004.
Mehlman used his chairmanship to strengthen the party's sophisticated machinery for identifying and turning out voters, an operation that has won plaudits even from his Democratic adversaries.
He also spent much of his time trying to enlarge the party's coalition, particularly among Hispanics and African Americans. He helped recruit three African Americans -- Steele among them -- as statewide candidates this year. All three lost, but Mehlman said yesterday that he remained committed to making the party more diverse.
The RNC came under criticism in this campaign, however, for sponsoring an advertisement in Tennessee's Senate race that critics claimed was a thinly veiled racial appeal against Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., who is black.
Mehlman's future plans were not disclosed last night. There has been speculation that he might join one of the 2008 presidential campaigns, but one knowledgeable strategist said he knew of no such agreement. One Republican said Mehlman, a lawyer, might join a politically connected law firm and might play a role in that capacity.