Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman pledged Wednesday to use the volunteer army built during President Bush’s 2004 campaign to elect Republicans in campaigns to come.
“Because of this historic campaign and historic election, we now have a truly historic opportunity,” Mehlman said at an address to RNC delegates during the organization’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
Earlier in the day, Mehlman was elected unanimously to succeed Ed Gillespie as the head of the RNC. Joanne Davidson was elected vice chairwoman.
Mehlman also announced that Sarah Taylor, a strategist for the Bush re-election effort, will take over as White House political affairs director from Matt Schlapp.
In his first speech as head of the RNC, Mehlman claimed that GOP victories on the presidential, Congressional and gubernatorial levels amounted to a Republican mandate to govern.
“Step one is to enact the ideas we ran on and the American people endorsed,” said Mehlman. “The Bush-Hastert-Frist agenda provides numerous opportunities to continue to broaden and deepen the party.”
Among the proposals Mehlman mentioned were “sav[ing] Social Security … appoint[ing] strict constructionists to the courts … [and] promot[ing] a culture of life.”
Mehlman acknowledged that history shows that the second midterm election of a president’s tenure to be difficult for the party in power, having lost — on average — seven Senate seats and 19 House seats.
Republicans currently control 232 seats in the House and 55 seats in the Senate.
“We must take on the challenge of 2006 by treating it as an opportunity,” Mehlman said. “Every election should be a testing ground for the best political practices.”
Much of the emphasis over the coming months must be on perfecting the voter turnout and targeting operation built over the past four years, according to Mehlman.
He pointed out that since Bush’s first inauguration more than 3.4 million new Republican voters have been registered, and the party has received the financial support of 1.8 million first-time, small-dollar donors.
“Republicans must acquire and maintain a technological advantage in the tactics of politics,” Mehlman said.
The new chairman of the Democratic National Committee will be chosen Feb. 10-12, but the party’s choice remains up in the air.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean appears to be the frontrunner for the post, having secured the unanimous backing of Florida DNC members as well as the endorsements of party chairmen from Utah to Mississippi.
Former Reps. Martin Frost (Texas) and Tim Roemer (Ind.) are also in the race and attempting to accumulate establishment backing.
Roemer announced a list of endorsements Wednesday that includes former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux as well as Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) and Stephen Lynch (Mass.).
New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg, political operative Donnie Fowler, former Ohio party Chairman David Leland and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb round out the field.