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Wagner tells conservatives she'll repair RNC finances but keeps her Missouri options open

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 1, 2010 - WASHINGTON - St. Louisan Ann Wagner told a conservative forum for candidates vying for the Republican National Committee chair on Wednesday that she would be a "strong, effective and unified" chair who would rebuild the party's fund-raising operation and fortify its depleted finances in time for the 2012 election campaign.

"It's money first, it's money second and it's money third," Wagner told the Republican National Conservative Caucus and members of the Freedom Works grassroots group of tea party activists. "A fully funded RNC is the only way we're going to take back the White House and the U.S. Senate."

While Wagner pledged to be a "24-7" full-time RNC chair if she is elected to the position next month, she told journalists during a break in the forum that she would keep open all options in Missouri if her RNC campaign -- announced Monday -- falls short.

"I'm a servant, a leader and I believe very much in stepping up to serve," she said. "I have a great desire to serve my state and my country at all levels -- whether it's in the political process or arena or as an elected public official."

Wagner, who had been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Republican nomination to oppose U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, R-Mo., in 2012, told the Beacon that she had "no reaction" to the entry of former state treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla into that race earlier on Wednesday.

"I'm worried about my own race [for RNC chair] at this point," Wagner said. But she added, "I have great respect for Sarah, and she is a good political operative. She did place a call to me, but I have not been able to return that yet."

The main point, Wagner said, is that "McCaskill is beatable. She will try and move herself as an independent or moderate, but she's got a voting record and a direct loyalty and attachment to Barack Obama that she cannot disclaim." She added: "Given the outcome of this last election, and having been on the inside of the Roy Blunt campaign, I believe wholeheartedly that Claire McCaskill is vulnerable and should be beaten."

Wagner said, "I don't know who's going to get in, and who's not going to get in" the Republican contest for the Senate seat. "I'm running full-bore for chairman of the RNC. I've got a skill set and an opening here to lead into 2012. And I'm going to do that 100 percent, full-time. ... 168 people will decide it on Jan. 14, and then I'll wake up Jan. 15 and either be on a plane raising the major [RNC] donor money that I've been talking about, or I'll be back in St. Louis."

At the conservative forum, Wagner and three other announced or potential candidates for the RNC post -- former RNC political director Gentry Collins, Michigan committeeman Saul Anuzis and Kentucky committeeman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan -- all emphasized the need to restore the party to a solid financial footing. All of them also said the party should not take sides in Republican primary battles.

Wagner told reporters: "Primaries can be healthy, but you have to be careful sometimes, too, in terms of money resources and the damage you can do to a principal candidate. So while it's healthy for people to engage in the system, you have to judge the situation and decide how best to navigate through that."

"I do believe it is not the role of the RNC to come in and try to orchestrate a primary race. That is something that the [November] election screamed loud and clear across the nation."

Not attending Wednesday's forum was the current RNC chair, Michael Steele, who is expected to announce by next week whether he plans to run for re-election. The RNC's 168 delegates will choose the chair next month. Steele's style has irritated many Republicans, and the party is in serious debt.

"We need to re-establish a successful major donor operation," said Wagner. "We must renew fully funded political operations at the state level and at the grassroots level for all of our programs."

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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