Richard Richards, the controversial chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced yesterday he will resign at the end of his two-year term in January because "I don't think it'll be all that much fun next time."
Richards, 50, said he was jumping; high White House officials, who asked not to be identified, insisted that he had been pushed.
The officials said President Reagan met with Richards Friday to say he did not want Richards to serve beyond January. But Richards said he told the president that he would not seek reelection to his party post, then declined Reagan's offer to take a job in the administration.
Reagan, campaigning yesterday in Ohio, said in response to a question that he thought Richards had "done a great job."
For more than a year Richards has been the subject of stories, floated primarily by White House sources, speculating on his ouster and replacement. He has been criticized privately for being ineffective both as a manager of the political machinery and as a spokesman.
"Every clerk at the White House thinks he knows how to do my job," Richards responded yesterday. He added that he believes the political arm of the White House should be abolished, because it acts as a "buffer" between Reagan and the party.
There is no clear favorite to succeed Richards. The White House reportedly asked Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis to take the job, but Lewis has made it clear he is not interested and is no longer under active consideration.
A fresh crop of candidates may emerge after the mid-term elections, which inevitably produce "retirees" from Congress and are a customary time for Cabinet and White House personnel changes.
The timing of Richards' announcement -- one month before the elections -- was just the latest source of tension between the White House and him.
Richards said he called the press conference yesterday on his own because the published speculation about his departure was "disheartening" to RNC staffers. White House officials expressed "surprise and disappointment" yesterday that he chose to confer lame-duck status on himself so soon before the elections.
Richards said he expected to leave on a high note. He predicted the party would pick up one or two Senate seats and lose no more than 10 or 12 in the House next month--a rosier assessment than most GOP leaders are making these days.
Richards said his most "controversial" moment was a statement last year attacking independent expenditures groups, such as the National Conservative Political Action Committee, for creating "all kinds of mischief" in the political process. The largest of these have made their mark attacking Democrats, and their leaders made their displeasure with Richards known in the White House.
Richards, a veteran of GOP politics in Utah, said he planned to take on a job in the private sector here.