Who Will Take Up the Gauntlet to Lead the GOP Out of the Wilderness?

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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, November 10, 2008

John McCain's defeat last Tuesday leaves a gaping hole at the top of the Republican Party. Politics abhors such a vacuum, and already a number of people have been mentioned (or have mentioned themselves) for the GOP's most coveted job at the moment: chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The next face of the party will be chosen at the RNC's winter meeting in January by a select group of 168 committee members.

Here's a look at the contenders:

Michael Steele: The former lieutenant governor of Maryland and unsuccessful Senate candidate is a well-known and well-liked presence within the party. Steele is also African American, which could be a factor for a party looking to re-brand itself in advance of the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Mike Duncan: The incumbent RNC chairman wants a second term and is working hard behind the scenes to lock one up. Duncan is not particularly well-known nationally, but he knows the committee members who will make the decision as well, if not better, than anyone else in the race.

Newt Gingrich: The former congressman and House speaker from Georgia is being looked to by some within the GOP to (again) lead the party out of the wilderness. Gingrich is widely seen as a presidential candidate in 2012, and the RNC chairmanship would be a nice launching pad for such a bid. But he cast doubt on his interest in an RNC run in an e-mail exchange with The Fix last weekend, noting that he was focusing on his think tank American Solutions.

Katon Dawson: The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party has made no secret of his interest in the top spot and is seeking to get a jump on the field by hosting a strategy session in Myrtle Beach this weekend to discuss where the party needs to go in the coming years. Dawson is a conservative's conservative, but does he want the job too much to get it?

Chip Saltsman: The one-time chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party won major plaudits from political insiders for his role as manager of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign. Saltsman is a son of the South -- the last bastion of Republican strength nationwide -- and well-liked by social conservatives.

Jim Nussle: The head of the White House Office of Management and Budget was widely regarded as a rising star earlier this decade. After serving in the House for nearly two decades, Nussle ran for governor of Iowa in 2006 but lost to Chet Culver (D) -- a defeat that took some of the shine off of the Republican. Although Nussle's Midwestern roots favor him, do Republicans really want someone tied so closely to President Bush as their new face?

Saul Anuzis: Anuzis is the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. When Michigan appeared to be at the center of the recent presidential fight, Anuzis appeared to be in prime position to prove his worth. But Michigan fell off the map, and Anuzis watched as Sen. Carl Levin (D) cruised to reelection and two House Republican incumbents were defeated.

Jim Greer: The chairman of the Florida Republican Party is also a confidant of Sunshine State Gov. Charlie Crist. Greer is a powerful fundraiser but may have too moderate an image for the RNC members who will make the pick. It's also not clear how interested Greer is in the gig: "I really don't think so," Greer responded when asked by a St. Petersburg Times reporter whether he would like to be RNC chairman.

It's no secret that Senate Democratic candidates were hoping that the voter registration and turnout efforts organized by Barack Obama would give them the boost they needed to get over the top in close races.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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