Katon Dawson denies possible coup to replace Michael Steele as Republican National Committee chairman

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson denies there’s a coup in the works to replace RNC Chairman Michael Steele, but refuses to say whether he’s been encouraged by Republican friends to make himself known in case the RNC chairman is ousted from office.

Dawson, who lost to Steele by only 14 votes to lead the RNC last year, raised eyebrows with news that he will travel to the committee’s winter meeting in Hawaii on Jan. 25 — where Steele could face reprimand by committee members — as a substitute for South Carolina’s chairwoman.

Republicans have blamed Steele for overshadowing last week’s news of high-profile Democratic retirements with comments that the GOP would not win back the House. Steele has also come under fire recently for giving paid speeches and for low fundraising numbers.

Asked whether committee members have approached him to gauge his interest in replacing Steele, Dawson declined to comment. He dismissed the notion that the trip is about making himself visible while frustration with Steele is high.

“Me going to Honolulu has nothing to do with that,” he said, maintaining he’s merely going to “reconnect with people.”

Dawson said he “planned weeks ago” to go to the meeting as a substitute for the current South Carolina GOP chairwoman, who will be absent because of a conflict.

“I have no anticipation of anyone replacing Chairman Steele,” he said.

A former RNC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly, said that many committee members see Dawson as the alternative to the gaffe-prone Steele. But for Steele to actually be removed from office by committee members, “I think there would have to be something other than what we already know.”

“I think a lot of it depends on where the next week goes,” said the operative. “It’s just an evolving story.”

The former official said it’s more likely that Steele will be disciplined, rather than shoved out the door. That could include sanctions like prohibiting him from collecting speaking fees.

“Those are perhaps more likely than an outright vote to oust him,” the operative said.

Politico reported that Republicans likely will not fire Steele because of the public relations disaster that would follow if an almost all-white party ousts its first black RNC leader, who has the unique ability to speak on racial issues while a black president is in the White House. And on Sunday, Steele demonstrated that role by calling on Senate majority leader Harry Reid to resign his seat over racial remarks attributed to the Senator — a role that may save his job.

Steele, on NBC’s Meet the Press, defended his tenure as chairman and told moderator David Gregory that he’s been “a passionate leader of the party” who has accomplished much, including overseeing the Republican gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey.

The RNC did not immediately return requests for comment on this article.

Dawson, who recently opened a political consulting firm, said he has no specific plans to run for chairman in 2011 when Steele’s term is up, but said, “In politics you never slam the door on anything.”

He also declined to answer whether he’d vote for a resolution removing Steele from his post as chairman.

“It’s a hypothetical question. I won’t answer it,” he said.