Fisher gets her wish: GOP picks new leader

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2011

Staff and wire reports
OXON HILL, Md. — For nearly two years, Dr. Ada Fisher has been calling for Michael Steele to step down as chairman of the national Republican Party, and the chorus of GOP voices calling for the same has grown.
On Friday, Fisher, a retired Salisbury physician and member of the National Republican Committee, got her wish.
Steele stepped down after voting had begun for chairmanship of the party, which is coming off huge election victories but facing a $22 million debt and an internal war over identity.
The delegates chose Wisconsin party chief Reince Priebus to lead in the run-up to the 2012 presidential race.
The candidate who Fisher backed, Maria Cino, a former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee who stayed in the race until the seventh round of balloting, when Priebus won enough votes to seal his victory over several other candidates.
Fisher may not be much happier. A former Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education member who has run unsuccessful campaigns for the N.C. General Assembly and U.S. House, Fisher had said she didn’t support former Steele lieutenant Priebus either.
But at least she’s finally rid of Steele.
Although he became the GOP’s first black chairman, Fisher — one of the Republican National Committee’s two black members — didn’t support Steele when he won the post and has criticized his leadership since he began the term.
In 2009, just after Steele assumed the job, Fisher called for him to step down after a couple of gaffes: First, he caught heat for calling the federal stimulus package “bling bling.” Then he apologized to Rush Limbaugh after offending the conservative radio personality when he denied Democrats’ assertion that Limbaugh was the “de facto leader” of the GOP.
In the e-mail to fellow Republican National Committee members, Fisher accused Steele of “eroding confidence” in the GOP.
“I don’t want to hear any more language trying to be cool about the bling in the stimulus package or appealing to D.L. Hughley and blacks in a way that isn’t going to win us any votes and makes us frankly appear to many blacks as quite foolish,” Fisher’s e-mail said.
In December, Fisher told The Hill newspaper she hoped the next chairman would bring “competence, transparency and accountability” to the party.
On Friday, Fisher told Politico she supported Cino because she was the only candidate with experience in the committee’s trouble spots.
“We’ve had some internal problems with financial management, and that’s really her strength,” Fisher said.
Fisher and Steele did agree on one thing: After he dropped out, Steele endorsed Cino as his successor.
Fisher, who is in Maryland for the party convention, couldn’t be reached by telephone and had not replied to an e-mail from the Post late Friday.
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The embattled Steele dropped his re-election bid halfway through afternoon balloting when it became clear he could not win another two-year term after a first marked by verbal missteps and financial woes.
“We have to get on track. And together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012,” Priebus, the chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, said in a brief victory speech, pleading for unity within the fractured 168-member Republican National Committee.
The new chairman’s name is pronounced Ryns Pree’-bus.
“We all recognize that there’s a steep hill here ahead of us, and the only way that we’ll be able to move forward is if we’re all together,” he said.
A former top lieutenant to Steele, Priebus promised to hire top-notch staff, restructure the organization and put it on solid financial footing so the next GOP presidential nominee will be prepared to take on Obama. Later, he rejected suggestions the national party organization’s power might have waned, given the proliferation of outside groups that have assumed campaign functions the party historically has performed.
“It’s very relevant,” he said.
For the next two years, Priebus will try to prove that. Most urgently, the new chairman must retire an RNC debt of about $22 million owed to vendors and banks, as well as lure back demoralized donors who have been so frustrated with Steele’s management that they sent their dollars elsewhere or didn’t open their wallets at all last year. The party had only about $1 million cash at year’s end.
He’ll also serve as the party top spokesman promoting its agenda, countering Democrats, raising money to help Republicans and improving a get-out-the-vote effort that critics say languished under Steele.
Additionally, Priebus will have to figure out how to navigate a GOP civil war in which conservatives and tea party disciples are trying to pull the Republican Party further to the right, to the chagrin of moderates and some longtime establishment leaders.
The favorite heading into Friday’s balloting, Priebus led the field through seven rounds of voting. Steele quit after the fourth round. Ann Wagner, a former Missouri state GOP chair, abandoned her bid a few rounds later. Cino, a New York native and a veteran party operative who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, and Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, stayed on the ballot until the end.