I had a chance to watch the tape of RNC Chairman Debate from CSPAN tonight, so let me share my overall thoughts on it. From a big picture perspective, I felt that the fact that the RNC chairman candidates had an open televised debate to discuss the issues facing the party and how they would lead is a great thing. I strongly support opening the doors of the party to allow everyone to participate through open meetings like this one.
I think all the candidates did a good job but to me Ken Blackwell and, to a lesser extent, Michael Steele did the best. Steele is a masterful communicator and did not let down for the debate. However, as perhaps the best-known candidate, he pretty much had this reputation going into the debate. Blackwell, on the other hand, is not as well known and so his impact is arguably much stronger. He had perhaps the best line of the debate saying that the one problem Republicans are facing is that “candidates campaigned like Ronald Reagan but governed like Jimmy Carter.” He also took the most direct shot at the Bush administration comparing their expansion of government to President Hoover, whom Blackwell previously identified as the worst Republican President.
Chip Saltsman and Saul Anuzis both did fine in getting across their ideas but did not really stand out of the pack. However, Saltsman probably outperformed expectations somewhat while Anuzis did not quite live up to his own hype. Anuzis was also the victim of a bad lapel mic for most of the debate as well making it difficult to hear what he was saying. They both did well but I don’t think either won any votes as a result of the debate.
In my humble opinion, Mike Duncan, the current chairman, and Katon Dawson came out of the debate looking the worst. Dawson spent most of the time discussing his achievements as Chairman of the Republican Party of South Carolina, which while impressive, sounded a lot like bragging. In addition, he failed to offer many new ideas on how the help the party. Duncan seemed almost defensive for most of the debate, insisting that 2008 was not a bad year for Republicans while at the same time trying unsuccessfully to sell the fact that he could bring fresh ideas to the party.
If I had to declare a winner, I would say that it was Ken Blackwell, primarily because I believe he improved his status the most as a result of the debate. If I had to handicap the race at this point, I would say it is a three way race between incumbent Michael Duncan, who is still well liked by many members of the RNC, Michael Steele, who is the most well known of all the candidates due to his numerous media appearances, and Ken Blackwell, as he has come on the strongest in the past week of the RNC chairman’s race.