Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is waving off rumors that he is gearing up to run for chairman of the Republican National Committee next year, but Republicans insist that if he does make a bid for the spot, he will immediately be the favorite to succeed Michael Steele.
Candidates for the RNC chairmanship aren’t expected to formally announce their campaigns until after the November elections, largely in order to avoid appearing to be working on their own careers instead of focusing on the GOP’s efforts to regain the House and Senate, Republican aides said.
For instance, Steele is all but certain to run again, despite a checkered tenure marked with numerous management problems and gaffes. But he has avoided making definitive statements about his future.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said the committee is thinking only about the upcoming elections. ‘This committee is focused on electoral wins in November and focused on putting resources on the ground,’ he said.
Likewise, Coleman ‘ CEO of the American Action Network, a nonprofit advancing ‘center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism’ ‘ flatly denies that he has decided to run. ‘I’m very, very focused on doing those things to ensure my team wins back the House’ and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is Majority Leader next year, Coleman told Roll Call earlier this month.
‘Any other reports to the contrary wouldn’t be accurate,’ he added.
Coleman is indeed prepping for a run at the chairmanship and has hinted as much to those close to him, according to numerous Republican operatives. ‘He’s running, absolutely,’ said a veteran Republican operative familiar with the situation.
Republicans said that after the media circus that has characterized Steele’s time as chairman, Coleman could bring a level of low-key stability to the organization. He is also well-liked by elected Republicans in Washington, D.C., thanks to his time in the Senate.
Although Coleman has a reputation as a moderate, he has not had major run-ins with the party’s social conservatives, and aides in the House and Senate said he is at ease with most elements of the party.
And while Coleman is not considered a master tactician like former Chairman and current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and does not possess major star power to wow donors, many Republicans said he is the kind of steady hand who could guide the RNC at least until the party picks its presidential candidate for the 2012 race.
Assuming he runs for the chairmanship, Coleman could find himself in a crowded field of candidates.
While Steele hasn’t officially said he’s running, most observers said he will. Additionally, Steele recently traveled to Guam ‘ ostensibly on official business ‘ which Republicans outside of the RNC suspect was part of Steele’s efforts to shore up his support among RNC members before next year’s election.
Steele’s re-election bid would likely face stiff opposition from elected Republicans in Washington and a significant portion of the committee’s voting membership.
Other names that get mentioned as possible candidates: former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Both men ran against Steele in 2009 and both enjoy bases of support within the RNC’s membership.
Some Republicans are also reportedly considering an effort to draft Barbour to throw his hat in the ring after Election Day. Barbour, who serves as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was the head of the RNC between 1993 and 1997.
An adept politician, Barbour would undoubtedly bring a certain amount of stability, as well as his list of deep-pocketed donors, to the troubled organization. Barbour’s gubernatorial term ends at the end of 2011, and he is barred from re-election by state term limits.
But Barbour has his eyes on a much higher prize: the presidency. Although he has yet to formally announce his intention to run, he has made it clear that he is considering it, and taking over the RNC would almost certainly end his prospects for the 2012 campaign. As a result, most Republicans in Washington have dismissed the likelihood that he would come back to the RNC.
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.