On the day that Ronald Reagan swept to the presidency, Ben Skall also won his race on Ohio's 22nd Senatorial District in Cleveland. Elsewhere in the same city, Gary Suhadolnik captured the 24th Senatorial District seat. Down around Zanesville, Bill Ress won in the 30th District, while in Springield Mike Dewine won in the 10th District.
The president-elect and these four new Ohio state senators have more in common than the fact that they were all victorious Republicans Nov. 4. Each in one way or another was a beneficiary of a Republican Party renaissance engineered by a man who almost four years ago took over a party that was in about the same shape he was -- out of power and with no place to go.
That man is Bill Brock, who turns 50 this month. In 1977 he was just another defeated Republican senator when his party turned to him and elected him chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The debates and analyses over what exactly went into Reagan's sweeping victory, the takeover of the Senate by a Republican majority and other GOP gains in the 1980 elections will go on for months if not years. But no one point there is no serious post-election argument from either Republicans or their Democratic victims -- Brock and his highly professional staff at the RNC laid the groundwork for many of those gains, in the process transforming the GOP from the wreckage of Watergate and the Nixon years into a party that now has at least a chance of breaking the Democrats' almost 50-year-old claim to majority status.
If politics ultimately is the business of winning elective office. Brock can look back with satisfaction on this record:
In 1977, the House consisted of 292 Democrats and 143 Republicans. The Democrats will still control the House that takes office in January, but their margin has been cut. The new House will have 243 Democrats and 192 Republicans, according to the latest RNC count.
The Senate in 1977 numbered 61 Democrats, 38 Republicans and one independent, Harry Byrd of Virginia.Power will shift completely in the new Senate, which will consist of 53 Republicans, 46 Democrats and Byrd.
It is much the same story on the state level. Four years ago, the nation had 37 Democratic governors, 12 Republicans and one independent. Today the GOP has pulled almost even with 23 governors compared with 27 Democratic governors.
In 1977, there were four states in which the Republicans controlled both houses of the state legislature. Today that number is 15. In the last four years the GOP has doubled the number of state legislative chambers -- House or Senate -- it controls from 17 to 34 and can add to that effective control of the Pennsylvania Senate, where an evenly divided body is presided over by a Republican lieutenant governor.
Neither Brock nor his loyal aides would claim that all this was their doing, and they would be the first to acknowledge that, given the state of the Republican Party in 1977, there was no place to go but up. But even a Democrat like Bob Neuman, the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says he has "nothing but praise" for the job Brock has done at the RNC. Moreover, Neuman and other Democrats see lessons there for the newly tattered Democratic Party.
The Republican gains the RNC has overseen in the last four years have been built on hugely successful direct mail fund-raising that in 1977 produced $19 million in contributions and this year will produce about $45 million Part of this growth is a result of the natural spurt in political contributions that accompany any presidential election year. Even so, after deducting fund-raising and other costs, the RNC had about $33 million to spend this year on the business of electing Republicans, roughly three times the size of the political war chest available at the Democratic National Committee.
In the process of raising the money, the RNC attracted thousands of new contributors to the GOP banner, and by implication Republican causes and candidates. The party's list of contributors more than tripled in the last four years, producing another political anomaly -- the Republicans now get the bulk of thier money from relatively small contributors while the Democrats, relying on such traditional devices as the $1,000-a-plate dinner, have become the party of "fat cats."
Even when the polls showed Reagan and President Carter running dead even during the fall campaign, recalled Jack Faris, the RNC's finance director, "we were so confident back here in the finance division because of the number of people sending us $15 and $20 checks. Jimmy Carter didn't have that out there in the country. Ronald Reagan did."
What Brock and his staff did with all this money was unusual for a national party operation. Normally the focus of either national party is on gaining or retaining the White House and, to a lesser extent, on making gains in Congress. Brock attacked the GOP's problems from the other end, focusing on local and state elections as he sought to broaden the Republican base to include more blacks, blue-collar workers and other groups traditionally associated with the Democrats.
Today the RNC has a local elections division with a staff of 31, including 13 field operators who assist Republican candidates for state and local offices. This year the division spent about $3 million, including $1.7 million in direct contributions to GOP candidates.
That is part of the glue that binds Reagan and the other victorious Republicans together. For while the RNC was pouring resources into the Reagan campaign, it did not forget its local candidates. It targeted, for example, five Ohio Senate districts and provided an average of $20,000 to the GOP candidates in each of the districts.
This $100,000 investment has had a tangible return. Just as a Republican president will enter the White House in January, the four Republicans who won their Senate races will take office that month in Columbus, helping to transform what was an 18-to-15 Democratic majority into an 18-to-15 Republican majority. With Ohio and other states due to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines based on the 1980 census, Republicans in Ohio have already strengthened their ability to hold their own in the inevitable struggle over the shape of those districts.
The DNC had nothing comparable to this local elections effort. Nor was it able to match the extensive number of training seminars for candidates, campaign managers and political activists the RNC ran all over the country.
This year Brock also appears to have won a big gamble with a large chunk of his party's money by the success of another innovation in national politics that put the Republican Party directly into the television advertising business. Brock invested $6.5 million in RNC money in a series of pro-Republican and anti-Democratic television commercials with a simple message to viewers -- if you are tired of constant inflation and worried about unemployment and other economic ills, you can blame the Democrats, who have controlled Congress for more than a quarter of a century.
Poll results, according to RNC staff aides, show that the unprecedented advertising campaign helped income the GOP's overall image and undoubtedly contributed to the gains the party made in congressinal races.
But as impressive as these gains have been, Brock said in a recent interview, they are not enough. He said he was disappointed that, despite the RNC's concerted effort to court the black vote, black Americans largely retained their loyalty to the Democratic Party this year. The GOP, he said, may now be within striking distance of establishing itself as the majority, but it is not there yet.
"We have a long way to go in terms of building this party," Brock said. "No party is really the majority now, but the Democrats still have more people who identify with their label."
Brock and his staff at the RNC firmly believe that the GOP must continue in the direction it has set, emphasizing building the party up from the local level, and that both parties should be freed from various restrictions that limit their ability to function. Their counterparts at the DNC predict that they will find it far more difficult to accomplish this with Republican control of the White House presidents traditionally tend to look on the national party apparatus as their personal possession.
And whatever the future of the RNC in a Reagan administration, it is not likely to include Bill Brock as the chairman. His name is already being mentioned as a possible Cabinet appointment. A return to Tennessee in 1982 to run for the Senate seat he lost in 1976 is "an option," he says. He does not dispute a suggestion that he may be looking for a new challenge.
"The fun of politics," Brook said, "is that the challenges are unlimited."