The Republicans’ Next Female Leader?

The Daily Beast

No, it’s not Sarah Palin—Ann Wagner could be the first woman elected head of the Republican National Committee. The former Missouri party chairwoman talks to Shushannah Walshe about Michael Steele‘s erratic tenure, fundraising from outside groups, and more.

It’s been more than three decades since a woman last chaired the Republican National Committee. But now, as Michael Steele’s controversial tenure as chairman of the RNC appears to be ending, a woman has thrown her hat in the ring.

This week, a little-known politician from Missouri declared her candidacy for the GOP top job, and while it’s too early to tell who among the increasingly crowded field of contenders stands the greatest chance of winning, Ann Wagner could become the first woman elected head of the RNC. (The only other woman to hold the job, Mary Louise Smith, was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1974.)

In a lengthy interview with The Daily Beast this week, Wagner said she didn’t want to “cast aspersions” on Steele’s chairmanship, but still managed to make subtle and not-so-subtle digs at his bumpy tenure.

“There needs to be accountability,” she said. “The chairman needs to be full-time,” she added, noting the needs for “checks and balances and controls.” Beyond that, what the RNC needs, is “strong management and leadership from the very top.”

From the beginning, Steele has been a public-relations headache for the Republican Party, picking a fight with Rush Limbaugh, offering “slum love” to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and describing civil unions as “crazy”—all in the first 30 days after taking office.

But whereas Steele is the “off-the-hook” kind guy, who said he wanted to polish the GOP’s image with everyone “including one-armed midgets,” Wagner is less showy—even her most high-level official appointment spoke restraint. (She served for three-and-a-half years as ambassador to Luxemborg, appointed by George W. Bush.)

As chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party, she is credited with turning the state legislature from blue to red, winning statewide races and crucial votes to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Coming off those victories, she became the RNC co-chairwoman before Bush appointed her to the Luxembourg diplomatic post. Coming back, though, she worried that “perhaps socialism had followed me across the pond,” she said, and so she decided that she “needed to reengage,” successfully chairing Roy Blunt’s Senate campaign.

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