Republican National Committee wraps up strategy session in Hawaii

Former House leader Richard K. Armey shunned the beach for business meetings, sticking with his Texas-inspired attire.
Former House leader Richard K. Armey shunned the beach for business meetings, sticking with his Texas-inspired attire. (Eugene Tanner/associated Press)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010

HONOLULU -- You knew something unusual was going on here when you saw men in navy blazers thumbing furiously on their BlackBerrys, a correspondent from "The Daily Show" interviewing passersby near the beach and a burly 69-year-old Texan in a black cowboy hat, suede blazer and leather boots striding past a waterfall swimming pool, pink flamingoes and a scarlet macaw.

Republicans had arrived on Waikiki Beach.

Party leaders from as far away as Maine and American Samoa jetted to Hawaii for the Republican National Committee's four-day winter meeting, which concluded Saturday. Here they debated purity, assailed Democrats and, yes, had some fun in the sun.

Republicans spent their first night here under the stars at a traditional luau, which began with a conch-shell blowing and concluded with their chairman, Michael S. Steele, on stage with grass-skirted islanders, dancing the hula. RNC members called him "a natural," joking that if he stepped down as chairman, he could be cast in a luau revue.

"I missed it," lamented Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R), who told RNC members: "I'm waiting for the photos. Anyone with video, I'll give you my e-mail address."

Steele said there were "wonderful performances" but deadpanned: "We don't need to go there now, do we? No, we don't. It's such a can of worms."

Fortunately for Steele -- who last week embraced the local culture by wearing bead necklaces, a flower lei, un-tucked Hawaiian shirts and sandals -- his hula dance has not surfaced on YouTube. (The event was closed to the media.)

But that does not mean the party chief has escaped the image of Republicans gathering at a windswept beach resort in sunny Honolulu -- 5,000 miles from snow-covered Washington and seemingly a world away from millions of Americans without jobs.

Steele defended his decision to come to Hawaii, saying it is no different than the other 49 states and that the meeting here symbolizes the party's 2010 ambitions. Republicans will compete in every state, he said, including the traditionally Democratic homeland of President Obama.

"The tide is turning," Steele said, one of several ocean-themed metaphors he used this week.

Mary Jean Jensen, a committee member from South Dakota, said she escaped a blizzard to attend. Like some other RNC members, she paid her own way. "It isn't that we're using dollars that grandmas have given us for elections," she said.

To be sure, the RNC sponsored many meals and rented meeting rooms.

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