As head of a state party known for its knockdown presidential primaries, Katon Dawson knows about negative campaigns. But now the S.C. GOP chairman has become a target himself.
One anonymous e-mail mocked him as the “whites-only” candidate to lead the national Republican Party.
Dawson, 52, is one of six candidates vying to become the face of a party whose numbers have dwindled not only in Washington but across the country. Its 168-member executive committee votes for a leader today in Washington.
“It's completely unpredictable,” said Charlie Black, a Charlotte native and former national party chair. “I don't know how anybody can predict the outcome.”
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It's also dirty enough to rival an S.C. primary.
Anonymous e-mails called one contender a “paid political hack” and another “dangerously incompetent.” One e-mail featured a mock USA Today headline that read “RNC Members Choose ‘Whites-Only' Chairman.”
Dawson resigned from Columbia's whites-only Forest Lakes country club last September.
“This race has been tough, but we've continued to gain momentum each day by ignoring distractions and staying on the big issues Republicans care about,” Dawson said Thursday by e-mail.
The race comes after Republicans lost the White House to the first African American president and saw their congressional numbers erode still further. And Wednesday, Gallup released a survey showing “a dramatic turnaround” in party identification by Americans.
As recently as 2002, solid majorities of voters in most states identified with Republicans, Gallup said. Last year, only five states fell into that category.
Rebuilding the party has become the focus of the leadership race.
Along with Dawson, candidates include Michigan chair Saul Anuzis, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, incumbent chairman Mike Duncan, former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Blackwell and Steele are African American.
Steele and others have blasted Saltsman for sending out a Christmas CD with a parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro.” Ada Fisher, an executive committee member from Salisbury, also criticized the move.
“Racist actions and deeds have no place in the party,” Fisher, an African American, wrote at the time. “This is the party of Lincoln.”
She supports Dawson. So does N.C. GOP Chair Linda Daves of Charlotte and Glenn McCall, the first black chairman of the York County Republican Party.
“It's all about accomplishments and what he's been able to do,” said McCall, who works in uptown Charlotte.
Black, the former national chairman, says the GOP has to re-establish an identity.
“The basic differences between the parties philosophically has been lost on the American people,” he said. “When people went to the polls last year, they didn't see any difference … on who would control spending.”
Dawson, whose state remained solidly red, promises to make the differences clear.
“I can assure you that (President) Barack Obama, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and (Senate leader) Harry Reid will understand that Katon Dawson will become their worst nightmare,” he said in a campaign video. “We will expose them at every turn.”