DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump may have more than just his gratitude to offer in Michigan when he visits the state that capped his stunning presidential victory last month. Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel is a leading contender for the Republican National Committee’s chairmanship.
There was no immediate sign from Trump’s transition team Thursday that the billionaire planned to offer McDaniel the leadership post.
The niece of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is not the only contender. Rising national star Nick Ayers, a senior aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, also has vocal support from influential GOP figures.
Whoever takes the post will face immediate pressure to hold onto control of Congress in 2018.
Along with Trump’s public admiration, McDaniel has factors working in her favor, not the least of which is representing Republicans in a state that, until last month, was carried by Democrats in six consecutive presidential elections. McDaniel is scheduled to speak at a victory rally Trump plans to attend Friday in Grand Rapids.
“Ronna’s record speaks for itself. The president-elect owes his success to the Rust Belt. Having a national party chair from here makes sense,” said Bob LaBrant, a Michigan GOP activist and former political director of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
As Trump assembles his Cabinet, the party’s leadership is also his to recommend.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, whom Trump has asked to serve as White House chief of staff, was a close adviser to Trump during the campaign. Priebus’ legacy — investing early in campaign staff and technology in key states — ahead of the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election is something an existing RNC member, as McDaniel is, would be inclined to follow, party insiders say.
Priebus has been publicly silent on whom he’d like to succeed him.
But Trump singled her out for praise during a packed New York City fundraiser Wednesday. Top supporters and donors gathered for a private thank-you session, whose attendees included McDaniel, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and about 1,000 others.
“The president-elect gave a big shout-out to Ronna” and said she had a “big opportunity,” Schuette recalled of Trump’s comments. Only a handful of individuals were mentioned by name, Schuette said. “I think that’s pretty significant.”
Despite her uncle’s sharp criticism of Trump, the 43-year-old McDaniel fully endorsed the nominee who frustrated many in his party’s establishment. And still she’s widely admired across the RNC’s membership, several RNC members said. “I hold her in high regard,” Arizona committeeman Bruce Ash said.
Other assets supporters cite: She is a quick study, has a solid fundraising reputation and has a strong Republican pedigree. Besides Uncle Mitt, the Michigan Romneys include her grandfather, the late former Gov. George Romney.
After executing Michigan’s GOP election plan to victory, she next converted the state GOP into Trump’s recount legal team. She retained top lawyers who persuaded the state appeals court this week to deny Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s call for a recount.
McDaniel did not requests for comment Thursday but told The Associated Press last month she’d be “interested in whatever Mr. Trump wants.”
Some close to Trump are recommending Ayers, who has credentials that seem to defy his 34 years. Ayers was the Republican Governors Association executive director in 2010, a successful year for Republican state executives, and was a key adviser to Pence’s 2012 governor’s race. He joined Trump last summer, mainly helping Pence. He now advises Pence, who is chairman of the transition.
“Trump allies are encouraging Nick to run,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller told The Associated Press this week.
Ayers counts heavyweights former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and incoming Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens among his backers.
“The fact is Nick wins,” said Greitens, whom Ayers advised during his 2016 campaign. “I am 100 percent behind Nick Ayers.”
The showdown between Romney and Ayers has the makings of the first power struggle within Trump’s budding administration.
Then again, the unpredictable Trump could always surprise.
Others said to be interested: Matt Pinnell, RNC liaison to state parties; David Bossie, committeeman from Maryland; David Urban, Pennsylvania GOP operative.
One name won’t be in contention. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had expressed interest, is no longer considering seeking the party chairmanship, Christie aides said Thursday.