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Former SC Republican Chair Katon Dawson on his bid to be RNC chair.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

HH: Oh, it’s Katon Dawson this hour. I’m going to go to South Carolina then and talk with Katon Dawson, former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Hi, Katon.

KD: Man, I’m great, Hugh, thank you. I’m talking to you from the custodian’s closet in an airport sitting on a bucket, and it’s a good place to be. So I apologize to your listeners for using the cell phone, but I thank you for having me on today.

HH: Well, I apologize for introducing Ken Blackwell when it’s in fact Katon Dawon, but these things happen in radio, and I’m glad you’re in the broom closet there ready to talk to us. Katon Dawson, you’re from South Carolina, so you’ve got a perspective from a state that was comfortably Republican in ’04, comfortably Republican in ’08. Why did the GOP lose in ’06, and why did we lose the presidency in ’08?

KD: Well, you know, there are a lot of Sunday quarterbacks analyzing it, but I’ll tell you, Hugh, I’m extremely optimistic about our future, more so than our past. We lost our way on spending, we didn’t answer some questions we needed to answer to the American public, and we’re going to make those corrections. And I’m certainly optimistic about the future of our party, our principles, the values that drive us, and proud to be a Republican, Hugh.

HH: But what happened in ’08? Why’d we get so smashed up?

KD: Well, Hugh, let’s talk about my home state. ’06 you left that out, very successful cycle here. It’s not as easy as people would think. ’08, we had a great cycle in our home state. We had a lot of successes. But again, we didn’t explain to the American public, and answer the questions on spending, answer the questions on security, and answer the questions on the future of America. Campaigns and elections, a lot of times, especially this analysis we’re all doing as Republicans, it’s about do I know you, do I trust you, and do I like you. And that’s, as simple as that sounds, that’s what some campaigns and elections are about. And we didn’t answer those questions in a lot of places. We had some successes where our brand held together, and the American public listened to our values, listened to what the Republican Party stands for, and we were successful. But it was a good campaign run against us, but we’ve got to do better as Republicans and step up and change. And that’s why I’m offering to serve on the national level.

HH: Katon Dawson, how great is the technology gap between the RNC and the DNC, and I count the Obama team in part of that DNC?

KD: Well, and you’re one of the few that has. Let’s give them their credit. 55 or so employees over there embracing new technology, we got behind the curve on it regardless of what anybody says. But that’s a capital acquisition, and one that you’ve got to be willing to make, and willing to invest in, because the technology we’re going to use in 2012 is being developed as we speak. So the Republican Party’s going to have to be more flexible as a party, we’re going to have to move very quickly, and I think we’re going to be right on a tremendous amount of issues to offset that gap very quickly, because that’s not an ideological gap, Hugh. That’s a gap that you have to be committed with your spending to get to parity. And we’re going to be able to do that, because these members on the Republican National Committee don’t want to get used to losing, and they want change rapidly, and we now have opportunities to run it as a campaign and election organization that’ll be next to none, recognized in the world as long as we pick the right person to run the Republican National Committee.

HH: Do you have any idea, if you’re the chairman, Katon Dawson, who you would task to oversee the RNC’s virtual technologies and its new media outreach?

KD: Well, let me tell you, my conversation with a relative who works for Google, who’s very close to me, one of my nephews, and some other people, these, this is a decision that’ll be made once we change the Republican National Committee. We’ve got some good employees there, but we’ve got to have more of them, Hugh. We’ve got to have a commitment to be competitive on the playing field, a commitment to make sure that our e-campaigning is up to the level of our competitors. And I’m prepared to engage everyone involved in e-campaigning and communicating, to make sure that our state parties are never, ever like this cycle left behind our Democratic counterparts.

HH: All right, now let’s talk a little bit about the youth and Latino demographics. Youth broke decisively toward Obama, the Latinos that President Bush had brought along very patiently in ’04 and ’00 broke decisively toward Obama. How does the Republican Party address both demographics, Katon Dawson?

KD: Hugh, let’s don’t leave the Asian community out, another community that’s rewarded us with their vote that we lost a large percentage of that. We’re going to change the way we’re doing things. And we’ve got to reach out and again speak to the American people in a voice that, and in a tone that is understandable. We will not be the party of no. We’re going to offer solutions and a vision for America as Republicans that will make a difference in the voters’ minds, and that’s who we’re speaking to, not inside the Beltway Washington types, because you never win elections in Washington. And that’s the unique perspective that I’m bringing. I’m not a Washington insider. I’m an activist and a businessman and a person who’s excited about our chances for coming back in 2010.

HH: Now what about, though, that Latino vote? What do we say about amnesty? What do we say about regularization and about border security going forward?

KD: Well, we all agree that we’ve got to secure America. I mean, our first and foremost policy is to make sure that America is secure and safe. And then we’re going to have to deal legislatively, Republicans and Democrats, but our Republicans heard it loud and clear from the hinterlands of what they didn’t want. And now we’ve got to talk as Republicans in a kind, caring and understanding voice of what we’re going to do in America with this impending problem of illegal immigration. And it’s an issue that cuts across all lines and all borders, and we as Republicans are going to be a large part of solving that problem. And our elected officials will be held to task to make sure that we get a process that is fair and equitable to all Americans.

HH: Now do we need to change the order and the pace of the nominating system, Katon Dawson?

KD: Well, you know, let me explain. I’m from South Carolina, first, and certainly the first in the South presidential state, one with a proud presidential history. And I think the process, as convoluted as it was, Hugh, it was a system where the first time in 80-some to 100 years where we had a completely open presidential seat, where both parties were running a nomination. It was not the parties that started this process early. It was the candidates, specifically a few of them that started campaigning early. And as you said earlier, Hugh, these people are competitors. You don’t live in a political world without being ambitious, aggressive, and a competitor. So I think the process worked, there were certainly faults in it. But it is a democracy, and we’ll look and see, because obviously in a nominating system, there will not be a large challenge. I don’t happen to have a crystal ball in this broom closet that I’m sitting in to tell you that the Democrats probably already have their nominee. The Republicans will have a spirited fight. It’ll start fairly early. But there’ll only be one party on the playing field in the next cycle, and that will certainly simplify the process. And the Republican National Committee has already laid down the timetable. There are two states that are early, which is New Hampshire, historically, South Carolina historically, and then we have everyone after a March date. So I think you’ll see a more orderable process to that, unlike the chaos we saw last time. But the system worked, and we got our nominees. We weren’t fortunate to have been awarded the presidency, and we took some disastrous losses in Congress.

HH: But next time, Katon Dawson, though, those early states are not closed to Democrats. They’ll have every incentive to come play in ours, and I’m hoping that new RNC commission looks at tightening up the rules of who gets to vote, and makes sure it’s only Republicans. By the way, I’m looking for a chair on that commission. Are you willing to put me on that?

KD: Well Hugh, last I checked, I don’t think you have one of those 168 votes, but I appreciate you asking.

HH: But I think there are seven non-RNC votes on the primary commission, are there not?

KD: There are, Hugh, but I mean we’re not in a position to do that. Right now, we’re running to be head of the Republican National Committee.

HH: Well look, it’s not Blagojevich. I’m not offering you money, just my support. Katon Dawson, I want to ask you one serious question. People have raised your membership in a country club that did not allow other than whites in it. What’s your response to that issue?

KD: Well, when that situation came to my attention, I acted swiftly to change it. That’s been consistent with my record of accomplishments in the area of outreach to minorities. As the chairman of the state party in South Carolina, when the situation didn’t change quickly, I moved away. And then I’m certainly proud of my record, Hugh. We elected the first ever African-American to the Republican National Committee from South Carolina, the first ever African-American since reconstruction in this last cycle to the general assembly in South Carolina. And I’m proud of our accomplishments and outreach, our winning record, and out of everyone running, and they’re all my friends, all respectable gentlemen, I’ve got a record of accomplishments for seven years in South Carolina that none of them have in winning Republican Party races.

HH: Now you’d been in there for eleven years. Did you not realize that it was all white?

KD: Well, here again, I’m proud of my record in Republican Party politics. I have been in the Rotary Club, I have been in the Optimist Club. And I wasn’t aware of some circumstances that were there, because I was not a management team member. So as soon as these things were brought to my attention, Hugh, I moved on and took care of my business, which is my passion, of the Republican Party.

HH: I appreciate the time, Katon Dawson, look forward to talking to you again soon. Good luck in the ongoing campaign.

End of interview.

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