(CNSNews.com) – The current war on terror, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage and solutions to the economic crisis were not mentioned at Monday’s debate at the National Press Club between the six men vying for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
But the candidates were asked how many guns they own, to name their favorite and least favorite Republican president, and how often they use the “Twitter” social messaging utility on the Internet.
“I Twitter, but not near as much as Saul does,” Chip Saltsman, former head of the Tennessee GOP said about his rival, Saul Anuzis, who heads the Michigan GOP, when asked the twitter question by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, which hosted the debate.
In addition to Saltsman and Anuzis, the other candidates are conservative activist Kenneth Blackwell; GOP chairman in South Carolina, Katon Dawson; former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and incumbent RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.
Duncan defended his being the only candidate that does not use Twitter by saying that the networking tool is now a part of the GOP.com Web site under his leadership.
The candidates did reveal that, with the exception of Steele, each owns more than one gun – and Blackwell boasted that he has the most friends on the Internet social networking site Facebook, with more than 4,000.
All six candidates expressed the need for the Republican Party to return to the conservative values of individual liberty, free market economics, and limited government that has helped the GOP become the majority party in the past.
They also seemed unanimous in the belief that putting Republicans in office from the local to the national level called for returning party influence and funding to state and local election efforts.
Ronald Reagan was the favorite Republican president of all six candidates, while four declined to name their least favorite. Blackwell said Herbert Hoover was his least favorite for ushering in an era of “big government,” while Duncan said he would not want to be compared to Warren Harding.
The candidates were asked about the misdeeds of the outgoing President George W. Bush, with four saying his overspending damaged the GOP. Duncan and Steele said Bush’s execution of “the war” was his biggest mistake while in office.
Drawing on thousands of questions submitted online to Norquist’s group, many of the questions revolved around how the party can attract young voters and a more ethnically diverse membership.
One question, posed by a representative of the conservative Latino group, the Hispanic Leadership Council, asked if the candidates agreed that the GOP could not be a majority party “ever again” if it does not expand its base to include more Hispanics and people from other ethnic communities.
“We live in a country that is the most diverse in all of human history,” Blackwell responded. “But we are a great democracy because we’ve had a great Republican Party that believes in the sanctity of the individual, limited government, free markets and the rule of law.”
Michael Steele scolded the party, saying that a diverse GOP was long overdue.
“How long have we been talking about this?” Steele said. “When are we going to start doing it, for goodness sakes? This isn’t anything any of us can do individually. The states individually, where the rubber meets the road, have to buy into this. They are the ones with the encouragement and leadership at the national level that can get it done.
“Then you wouldn’t wind up with having a Hispanic questioner come up asking a question,” Steele said.
All six candidates were given two minutes at the beginning of the debate to make their case to the 168 members of the Republican National Committee who will elect the next chairman.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to be a Republican right now, as you probably know,” Steele said, adding that his upbringing in Washington, D.C., and grassroots work for the GOP makes him well-qualified for the chairmanship.
“We’re here to prove that it is. All that noise about the party dying or at death’s door. Bunk. Don’t believe it. We’re alive, we’re well, we’re conservative, we’re strong and we’re moving forward with your help and support,” he said.
“Ron and I traveled thousands of miles and raised millions of dollars for the Republican Party,” Dawson said, referring to Ron Thomas, political director for the GOP in South Carolina. “And we did it on the values of conservative Republicans.”
“I believe the most important job for the next RNC chairman is too reinvigorate our base,” Blackwell said, noting that redistricting would be one of his top priorities. “I believe I have an action plan that will do just that.”
“I think I bring a unique set of skills to this position,” said Anuzis, who highlighted his immigrant family and blue collar upbringing in Detroit. “I think until the Republican Party returns back to the principles that matter we’re not going to win. I think until we start articulating those principles and stop being hypocritical that we as a party will not be victorious.”
“I’ve always been involved in elections that some said simply couldn’t be done,” said Saltsman, who was the national campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid.
Saltsman said he helped defeat Al Gore in Tennessee in 2000 and fought and beat the state’s Republican governor when he tried to install a state income tax.
Duncan said his chairmanship was shaped by having a Republican in the White House.
“In my family, loyalty is not a vice,” Duncan said. “I worked very hard for George Bush, just as all the people in the states did, but it’s time to move forward, and I have a plan for that. I hope you’ll join me.”
The committee will select the new RNC chairman on Jan. 28.