Lee Atwater, undergoing treatment for an inoperable brain tumor, intends to seek reelection in January to another two-year term as chairman of the Republican National Committee, party officials said yesterday.
The announcement was made by Mary Matlin, RNC chief of staff, at a staff meeting Wednesday, according to Leslie Goodman, committee spokeswoman.
"Every day, as Lee gets stronger, he feels he's capable of doing the job," Goodman said.
Some committee members aren't so sure, however. They question whether Atwater would have the stamina to lead the party through what many see as a crucial two years leading up to the 1992 presidential election.
"I don't know whether Lee's health will permit him to take the active role that he should," said Kay W. Riddle, committeewoman from Colorado. She and others suggested that Atwater be given a new title, such as general chairman, and that some other political operative be tapped to oversee the day-to-day operations. That idea was greeted favorably by other Republicans.
"This would still allow him to sit at the table and permit us to take advantage of what he does best, and that is strategize," said Eddie Mahe Jr., a consultant and former RNC political director.
Atwater, 39, was elected RNC chairman in January 1989. But since being stricken by the tumor March 5, he has played less of a role in party affairs.
Many party officials feel his absence left a serious gap in the partisan advice to the GOP and President Bush this year that was reflected in the outcome of the elections and the White House's bungling of the debate over taxes.
A few committee members declined to commit themselves when asked if they would support Atwater for another term. Most said they wanted Atwater to stay on and predicted he would be reelected as long as that is what Bush wants. The White House said the president had no plans to replace Atwater.