WASHINGTON — Let’s clear two things up at the start of this article that will be helpful going through the rest of it.
One: Former Sen. Norm Coleman finds himself once again in the conversation for a run as the next chair of the Republican National Committee.
POLITICO reported late Thursday that he was considering it, and has told aides it would be an “intriguing” opportunity.
Two: I have no idea how much of that is coming from Coleman, and how much is coming from people who flatly don’t like current Chairman Michael Steele and want to see him forced out.
This part of POLITICO’s report explains why the chatter has bubbled up at this moment in time:
The current chairman has endured perhaps the most difficult period yet of his rocky 18 months at the helm of the RNC. The party had to amend its most recent FEC filing to show debt of over $2 million and the committee’s treasurer said this week the figure is closer to $7 million. The disclosures come just weeks after Steele was captured at a GOP fundraiser saying Afghanistan was President Barack Obama’s war and prospects for American victory there were dim.
The financial woes and Steele’s Afghanistan gaffe, both recurring themes of his tenure, have left many prominent figures in the party more angry than ever and determined to oust the chairman after this November’s election.
Coleman himself denied it in statements e-mailed to both POLITICO and the Star Tribune’s Kevin Diaz.
“My focus is on the 2010 elections,” Coleman wrote. “We have a huge opportunity to stop the Democrats’ out-of-control spending and losing the opportunity would be devastating for the country.”
The tricky thing for those engaging in the who-should-lead-the-RNC parlor game is this: If he’s running, that’s exactly what Team Coleman should be saying right now.
Terms at the national party committees are structured around elections. Steele’s present term ends after the midterms, at which point he will either decide to run again or retire. Either way, the election for the 2011/12 term comes in January.
If Republicans held the presidency, this would be easy. President Whoever would nominate someone, and the RNC would oblige, because the president is the head of his party.
That’s why the last DNC election held such little suspense – President Obama nominated Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was then approved. Quick, simple, done.
But when one’s party doesn’t hold the White House, the campaign becomes trickier.
It centers around several things like (in no particular order): An established track record of raising money, existing networks, potential to raise more money, looking good on cable news, history of electoral success and the ability to inspire confidence in donors who will, naturally, give your party more money.
And Coleman is a prolific fundraiser. He raised more for his Senate campaign in the last cycle than anyone else in any other campaign.
Now he’s raising money under the banner of the American Action Network and targeting opposing Senate candidates in Florida and Washington State. It’s exactly the sort of work he’d be doing as RNC chairman, thus further fuelling the speculation.
But don’t expect Coleman to be heaping logs on the fire.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if people are talking to him, but I can tell you he’s entirely focused on 2010,” said former Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan.
Strict protocol (and common sense) dictates that one doesn’t openly campaign for a job like this in the months before the midterm election, and in so doing undermine the guy tasked with raising money to fight those battles.
Even the parlor game of debating if Steele should re-up or face an ousting bid is distracting.
“It’s like everybody is pretending we’ve got this election wrapped up and is looking to 2012,” said state GOP chairman Tony Sutton. “We’ve got to win now.”