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HONOLULU (AP) – A high-tax, big-government Democratic bastion for five decades and President Barack Obama’s birthplace, Hawaii would see a curious place for the Republican National Committee to hold its winter meeting.
But riding high after Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in last week’s Senate race in another Democratic stronghold, Massachusetts, 168 RNC delegates are arriving Wednesday unconcerned about this isolated island state’s past political proclivities.
On the heels of Massachusetts plus GOP triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races last fall, Republicans are invigorated after national elections that saw them lose control of Congress and then the White House. Yet the party faces deep internal divisions and other problems at the opening of the 2010 election season
Just like in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey, the GOP has tasted success in recent years in Hawaii in gubernatorial elections. In 2002, Hawaii elected Linda Lingle its first Republican governor since William Quinn in 1959, when statehood was granted. Lingle was re-elected by an almost 2-to-1 margin in 2006.
The gathering at one of Waikiki’s most prominent beachfront resorts will be a first for the RNC, which for years sidestepped requests by its Hawaii members to bring its winter meeting to a warm climate. “The concern was appearances,” said Travis Thompson of Maui, an RNC member from 2000 to 2008.
The lush, exotic locale doesn’t cover up polls showing that Republicans fare as poorly as Democrats at a time when candidates’ ticket for success with voters is distancing themselves from both parties. Conservatives backed by the anti-establishment “tea party” movement are challenging favored Republicans in House and Senate primaries across the country.
Some Republicans have said they also may demand a vote on a resolution to rebuke RNC Chairman Michael Steele over his book and promotional tour for it. Steele, critical of the last two GOP presidents and the GOP nominee in 2008, wrote that Republicans lost their way during most of the years following President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
Others may propose resolutions that would bar party contributions to Republicans who don’t meet a conservative litmus test on a number of hot-button issues, including abortion, health care reform, climate change and illegal immigration.
The resolutions would “address the need for the RNC to work to re-establish our conservative bona fides by ensuring that we only support candidates for office that are conservative,” said James Bopp, a lead supporter of the effort and an RNC vice chair from Indiana.
Steele’s choice of Hawaii for the meeting has also upset some Republicans.
“Do I want voters to think that Republicans do nothing but go to beach resorts in January? No,” said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican. He clashed with Steele after the chairman said during his book tour that Republicans wouldn’t win control of the House this fall, a remark Steele quickly took back.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Steele defended his decision to hold the meeting in Hawaii. He said he wanted to recognize the hard work of committee members from Hawaii and from U.S. territories who frequently travel to the mainland for party events. He said he also wanted to celebrate Lingle, an ally who is in the last year of her second term.
“People are trying to poison that and make it look like it’s some nefarious payback and all this other stupid silly stuff. It’s not any of that,” Steele said.
Asked if he was concerned about the optics of the RNC gathering in a tropical place given the recession, Steele said: “No. Hawaii’s going through a recession, too. So we’re going to help the economy a little bit.”
AP National Political Writer Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this report.