Marc Ambinder: Shakeup in the Race

A must read on the Blackwell-Benkiser alliance and the social conservative centric ticket.

A Shakeup In The RNC Chairman’s Race

17 Dec 2008 08:21 am

The decision of Texas Republican Party chair Tina Benkiser and former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to formally ally in the race to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee is, by rights, a minor affair, but it has to the potential to be the most important development yet.

“Recognized as a national conservative leader with an amazing record of accomplishment, Ken Blackwell is a dedicated servant-leader,” Benkiser wrote in a letter to RNC members.  “Whether it is leading the charge on issues or successfully running an effective organization, Ken is what our Party needs at this time. He will establish a clear distinction between the Republican Party and our opposition.”

Most significantly, this union gives evangelical Christians on the national committee a single ticket to join. Combined, the Blackwell-Benkiser ticket commands the support of at least 20 to 25 members, and probably closer to 30 of them.  About 40% of the 168 members on the committee are estimated to be hard core social conservatives. Support from 85 members is needed to win. Parochially, the alliance gives Blackwell an entree into the Texas delegation. More importantly, Benkiser gives him some administrative cover, because she, not he, has run a party organization before. But now that there’s a ticket so solidly identified with the Christian right, there will be many Republicans who, while not wishing them ill, worry about a party that is too overtly Christian and religious.  The ticket, therefore, opens up an avenue for candidates who don’t claim to be the avatars of evangelical activists. To be sure, the next RNC chairman will be opposed to gay marraige and pro-life.

Candidate Chip Saltsman, who has been courting, above all, Southern Christian conservatives, will probably lose support.

The frontrunner, current chairman Mike Duncan, is now in a bit of quandary. On January 5, the conservative steering committee of the party meets to interview the candidates. Duncan encouraged this committee to form, and intended to rely on the then-relatively even distribution of social conservatives to thread the needle between the right and the center-right.  The day before the meeting, all of the candidates will debate, in public, at the National Press Club.

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