I stopped by the RNC meeting last night as well, and it was interesting to see the candidates buttonholing every voting member they could. As Stacy noted, everyone there has an ulterior motive, and with a no-drop-off multiple ballot, it would be silly to presume that you know who has most of the support. Unless, as I’ve said, you’ve got a DeLorian in your garage.
According to some that were in the room, Mike Duncan gave as good a speech as they “had ever heard from him,” defending his record and so on. But when it came time to answer questions, Duncan got testy and only gave canned responses. Members were not enthusiastic. A vocal portion of the audience made it clear they were also upset in that he didn’t offer numbers or a plan to reach out to blacks.
One funny anecdote related to me was when Katon Dawson was lobbed an easy softball question so that he could address the whites only country club issue. Dawson responded that he had resigned from the club, that it was behind him, and that he’s done plenty of work to be inclusive. It appeared genuine, and obviously, calling Dawson a racist on this charge is unfair — if anything, he may be tin-eared on race. As Katon stepped aside, his luck must have run out. The next speaker in line introduced himself as a pastor of a 20,000 member black church. He noted that Dawson may think it’s behind him, but in his own experience, this will be a big problem when it comes to attracting blacks to the party.
One person brought up to me that Dawson didn’t fight to have the confederate flag removed from the South Carolina state house. That may be bad on an image level, but many in South Carolina feel strongly about the confederate flag, and Katon might not have been in a position to lead on the issue. The candidate, not the party chair, should lead the fight. But it does present yet another thing for the press to add to Dawson’s bioline.
Speaking to the candidates, you get the sense that everyone is saying they’re up against the candidate they’d most like to be up against. But they’re also giving you their vote counts, which frequently include “secret votes.” That is, the members don’t want to come out publicly for them, but they’re promising their vote. Chris Rock, if you’ve been dating a man for four months, and you haven’t met any of his friends, you are not his girlfriend. If you’ve been courting an RNC member for three months, and he hasn’t publicly endorsed you, he is not going to vote for you.
I agree with Stacy. This will take at least 5 or 6 ballots. Mike Duncan didn’t make a good enough case, and it looks like members want to grab someone with “change” on the mind. No one I spoke to sounded bullish on Katon. While Steele is tied to moderates like Christie Todd Whittman, some members I spoke to didn’t even mind, believing that the RNC needs to broaden the base. Interesting to me is that Steele and Anuzis are similar on this point, yet no one mentions that Anuzis would be willing to pull more moderates into the party as well. I don’t know if it’s a positive for him that he’s been able to get so far without this becoming his defining issue, but it’s strange that it hasn’t come up. Steele has also been saying he’s picked up a certain number of votes, but everyone I speak to says that they think it’s a load of horse droppings.
I thought an interesting lens to look through was the question of who has the least enemies — who people wouldn’t mind voting for if their own candidate didn’t make it. Blackwell certainly has the support of conservatives in the room, but will the moderates swing to him to get him 85? It’s a question of whether they buy his fundraising ability and the ability of his coalition to create a smooth-running organization. Steele has the moderates, but would the conservatives ever hold their noses and go for him? It depends on how his pitch on “inclusiveness” goes over, and whether he can claim his GOPAC work as a positive. Because Anuzis has been a friendly guy who’s been talking tech and philosophy, members may find it easier to go for him than to be caught between moderates and conservatives. But he has to talk about his successes as an organizer, which are few, and spin them as positive learning experiences. Yet he has a groundgame: quite a number of volunteers wandering around the hotel lobby wearing t-shirts. For those members who only became voting members on account of connections, and they are really just tourists with voting privileges, I can imagine this might actually help.
It’s going to be a long day.