Michigan National Committeeman Saul Anuzis jumped into the RNC Chairman race this morning, becoming the first individual to challenge incumbent Michael Steele. But his close relationship with Newt Gingrich and a lack of support amongst Michigan RNC members may provide challenges to his candidacy.
Anuzis disputed these contentions in an interview with FrumForum, saying that his record as a Michigan state chair showed his ability to act impartially, and that he would be elected with help from 168 members from across the country, not the Michigan RNC members.
While the last cycle called for a chairman who could be a spokesperson, the election of a Republican speaker would mean that “we would be better served having a nuts and bolts chairman,” Anuzis told FrumForum. “[We need to] get back to fundamentals, make sure the trains run on time, raise the money and have the best get out the vote effort we can possibly have.”
2012 Presidential Race: Too Newt-Friendly?
With this chairman’s race deciding the face of the RNC going into the 2012 presidential election cycle, members will be closely considering the presidential preferences of each of the candidates. Anuzis is particularly close with Newt Gingrich and his organization, American Solutions. In March 2009, Anuzis was employed by American Solutions to lead a new media campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act. On his twitter page, he describes himself as a “Newt fan”.
“I am committed to being a hundred percent neutral, and my record in 2008 clearly showed my willingness and ability to run a party during a presidential process in an open and fair manner,” Saul Anuzis told FF. Anuzis had been the Michigan state chair at the time, and coordinated a presidential debate and a conference where eight of the nine candidates attended.
“If you’re in this process, you’re going to have political friends, but you have to be an honest broker as chairman, and that would be my goal,” he said.
Support from the Michigan GOP?
One possible line of attack for Anuzis opponents will be to ask why he doesn’t have much support from his state’s two other RNC members: state chairman Ron Weiser and National Committeewoman Holly Hughes. Saul Anuzis was formerly the chairman of the Michigan state party – a fractious body in a notoriously fractious state for Republicans.
The Michigan Republican Party is divided between two factions: whether one is from Oakland County – the more affluent Detroit suburbs – or from Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids Republicans have traditionally dominated the state GOP, and do so now – with the exception of Saul Anuzis’ two terms as chairman.
Michigan National Committeewoman Holly Hughes told FrumForum that she would not be backing Saul Anuzis, and that she was committed to Michael Steele. “Why wouldn’t I [be]? He’s been one of the most successful RNC chairmen in history. Look at the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races, and the historical gains in the House… I don’t think it’s time to back another horse,” she said, saying that she was sure Steele would run for reelection.
“There are 168 members on the committee, and I need to get a majority. Different people have different reasons for supporting candidates… I was elected twice unanimously for state chairman… and consistently received two-thirds of the votes on state committee votes. I think it is fairly clear that I have a broad base of support amongst Republicans here in Michigan. I was just elected National Committeeman on almost a three-to-one margin, so I think that that’s reflective of what my support is,” said Anuzis.
Ron Weiser, the chairman of the Michigan state party, is on holiday and was unavailable to comment.
Flashback: The 2009 RNC Chairman Campaign
Of course, Anuzis will have experience on his side in this election. In 2009, he ran for RNC chairman as a candidate with a “clear conservative vision”, according to one of his campaign videos:
He ultimately finished in third place, increasing his vote count through the first four ballots before a collapse in votes in the fifth ballot led to his withdrawal. Michael Steele went on to defeat former South Carolina state chair Katon Dawson on the sixth ballot.
This shows us the baseline of where Anuzis starts out in this campaign: likely with about twenty votes that he can count on as a base of support. If he wants to get to 85 votes – the required number for a majority – he’ll need to broaden his appeal.
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