Martinez to Head RNC
Florida Senator Mel Martinez (seen here with recently defeated GOP Senator Rick Santorum) was selected to succeed Ken Mehlman as head of the Republican National Committee. Mehlman began letting the press know that he would be stepping as it became clear that his first cycle as chair of the RNC would go down in the books as an unmitigated disaster.
Martinez was not the obvious choice - at least not to this blogger. Maryland's outgoing Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele was actively campaigning for the job. Though he lost his campaign for the U.S. Senate, he was almost universally applauded as a savvy campaigner. An African-American himself, he would also have been the obvious choice to continue Mehlman's avowed goal of reaching out to African-American voters.
Senator Martinez on the other hand, has developed a reputation for silly gaffes and ineffectuality. He was clearly picked for four reasons - to help keep Florida red, to tap the deep pockets of Florida donors, to reach out to Latino voters, and because he is very close to President Bush.
In 2004, Latino voters were a true swing bloc, with Bush winning 44% of Latinos. In 2006, the GOP seemed to unilaterally decide to throw away all of the goodwill and gains they had made, winning only 30% of Latino votes in the last election.
There is little doubt that the Florida Republican Party will benefit from Martinez' new position. But there is still a great deal of doubt (at least in my mind) as to how effective Martinez will be, particularly since he will remain in the Senate and leave Mike Duncan, the RNC's general counsel, in charge of the day to day operations of that organization.