Gentry Collins could face uphill battle for top RNC job

Longtime Iowa GOP political operative Gentry Collins has formed a campaign organization to back his likely bid for Republican National Committee chairman this January. If elected, he would be the fifth leader of the national GOP from Iowa and the first since pro-choice moderate Mary Louise Smith chaired the RNC in the mid-1970s.

Collins’ resignation letter as RNC political director probably buried Michael Steele’s already faint hope of being re-elected for another two-year term as party leader. Several factors are likely to count against Collins when the 168 RNC members consider the possible successors to Steele, though.

IowaPolitics.com posted a copy of the articles for incorporation of the “Collins for Chairman” 527 group. Former Iowa GOP Chairman Brian Kennedy, who now leads the Scott County Republican Party organization, filed the papers with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. Last week Kennedy told Jonathan Karl of ABC News that Collins is “a proven party leader who has gotten results. He will be able to instill confidence in donors to parties that we will have a strong organization to support the republican party nominee in 2012.”

Kennedy has many RNC connections. Not only was he an RNC member when he headed the Iowa GOP, he also served on the RNC temporary committee that adopted rules this year on the 2012 presidential nominating process.

Technically, the statement Collins released on November 23 confirmed only that he is considering a run for RNC chairman. But he said friends on the RNC and outside the committee had “encouraged” him to take this step. Raising money for the 527 group shouldn’t be a problem. Collins’ previous work as RNC political director and before that for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign gave him contacts with many large donors.

Iowa’s RNC committeeman Steve Scheffler told IowaPolitics.com “he thinks Collins’ chances of becoming RNC chairman are as good as anybody else’s when the RNC votes Jan. 14.” I see three big strikes against Collins:

1. He is closely linked to past and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Collins was Iowa director for Romney’s 2008 campaign, and before that he worked closely with other Iowans in the Romney camp, such as Doug Gross. The next RNC director needs to lead the party during the presidential primary process, and a neutral figure may be more desirable as party chair. Lots of major donors stopped giving to the RNC during Steele’s tenure. The next chairman needs to build good relationships with those people, and they won’t all be in Romney’s corner.

2. Collins’ actions this fall appear self-interested.

Politico first reported on Collins resigning as RNC political director on November 16. The papers for the “Collins for Chairman” 527 group are dated November 9 and were filed on November 12. How long was Collins planning this move while he still worked for the RNC, and did he arrange for his resignation letter to be leaked to the press?

Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog labeled Collins’ resignation letter as “self-serving” and “unnecessary” immediately after the initial Politico report. Robinson added that the move was no surprise to Iowans familiar with what he called Collins’ “ego” and “vengeful style.” Count on Robinson to keep pushing this line with his Republican audience. He has already bashed Collins for organizing the 527 group while he still reported to Steele.

Voting RNC members might be looking for more of a team player to lead the organization, as opposed to someone who would throw his former colleagues under the bus to get the next good job.  

That might not matter if Collins were the main alternative to Steele, but he will be just one in a crowded field of candidates for the RNC job. Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post listed a few other likely candidates here. Scheffler told IowaPolitics.com

he’s heard 10-15 names of people interested in being RNC chair. Scheffler is a member of the Republican National Conservative Caucus. The group will sponsor a forum in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1 that will be moderated FreedomWorks, and the conservative caucus meet privately with all declared RNC chairman candidates to see if they meet 13 criteria. He said while the event will not be an anti-Steele effort, the group will be looking for alternatives.

All those candidates will be promising to improve the RNC’s organization and fundraising. Like Collins, several have had extensive experience working on campaigns.

3. Collins’ happy talk before the election eroded his credibility.

Michael Falcone and Jonathan Karl gave many examples of Collins’ “upbeat tone” about GOP organization in the weeks before the last election. Those contrasted sharply with the “grim picture of party mismanagement” in Collins’ resignation letter.

As the face of the party, the RNC chairman needs to do frequent media and public appearances. Collins would be an easy target for journalists during the next presidential campaign: why should we believe anything you say now when your public comments in 2010 were so far off your true assessment? Maybe it’s not fair to ding Collins, because political operatives always put an optimistic spin on things before an election. But if RNC members can pick a new leader without that kind of baggage, why not do so?

Share any thoughts about the Collins or the RNC chairman campaign in this thread.

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