The Year's First Big Election

The Republican National Committee will elect a new chairman today

As the Republican National Committee gathers today to elect a chairman to lead the party into the post-Bush era, Michael DuHaime, the political director for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, weighs in on the crucial vote and its consequences:

Republican leaders from around the country descend upon our nation’s capital today to vote in the country’s first crucial election of 2009, with the party at a crossroads.

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan faces a stiff challenge from five men who would like to replace him at the helm of the national party organization. Just 168 Republicans representing 50 states and six territories hold the all-important votes to decide the election's outcome.

What is at stake for the Republican Party today and in the coming years is far more important than simply who controls the institution of the Republican National Committee.

Our party leaders and elected officials will take us in one of two directions. We can chart a course to make Republicans competitive from coast to coast. Or we can continue on a trajectory that leaves us uncompetitive throughout great swaths of the country.

Many centrist voters have abandoned our party’s candidates over the past few years. They have tired of what they perceive as a party that cares more about partisan ideology than pragmatic solutions. Republicans have been defined more by who we are against rather than what we are for.

Republicans must build a broader, more inclusive coalition and present optimistic ideas and realistic solutions to the problems real people face. If not, states on the West Coast, the Northeast and industrial Midwest will become even less competitive, and our ability to win back crucial states like Ohio, Virginia and Colorado will be jeopardized.

Dubbed the Blue Wall by National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, Democratic Presidential candidates have now won 18 states (plus DC) five times in a row. These states total 248 electoral votes, a staggering 90% of the total electoral votes needed to win the Presidency. Republicans hold zero of 22 Congressional seats in New England, just three of 29 in New York and one of 10 in Maryland. We continue to lose ground in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oregon. Losses are no longer contained to “moderate” states. We have suffered key losses in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Colorado.

We must recapture the confidence and articulate the hopes of voters in the middle of the electorate who do not see solutions to rising health care costs, threats to the environment, bloated government budgets or job creation through a partisan lens. A Diageo/Hotline poll release just this past Wednesday suggests more than half the people don’t care which party is in charge, “as long as they can get things done.” Voters will simply judge failure and success. And they will measure the ideas, solutions and prospects for the future offered by each side.

Despite the feeling one gets watching network and cable news, 47% of Americans did not vote for President Obama. Recapturing the center of the electorate won’t be easy, but it is hardly inconceivable. It need not mean sacrificing conservative principles. But it does mean we must pay more than lip service to being more open and inclusive. It means recognizing we will not agree on every issue, and that we are big enough to agree to disagree.

Our party must unite around the principles of smaller, limited government and pro-growth policies. We must care about and compete again in cities. Our unwillingness or inability to compete in urban areas has caused us to lose ground in the suburbs. And if we cannot find a way to speak as comfortably and forcefully about education, the environment and health care as we do about terrorism and taxes, we will not win back the center.

The job facing the RNC Chairman elected today will not be an easy one. But with such a challenge comes great opportunity. Voters don’t follow party labels. They follow leaders. Over the next two years, our leaders will emerge, not by the power of their red-meat rhetoric, but by the strength of their ideas and ideals.

Prior to serving as the political director for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, DuHaime was campaign manager for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. He also previously served as political director for the RNC and as regional political director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

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