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Republican National Committee hits Hawaii, but it's all work, work, work at Waikiki

January 28, 2010 |  6:06 am

Hitting the beach

Let’s face it: these are still pretty tough times. Sure, the experts say the recession is over and the worst, economically speaking, is behind us. But the recovery seems fair to middling at best; each ray of statistical good news seems clouded by another report casting doubt on the strength and wherewithal of the economic comeback.

Republicans, as the opposition party, are only too happy to glom onto the gloom, pointing to the country’s double-digit unemployment rate, the continued shakiness in the housing and labor markets, the ongoing credit crunch and every other ill harbinger that makes this not just a jobless recovery, but a joyless one as well.

Which brings us, through the palm trees and across a wide, sandy beach, to the Republican National Committee meeting being held here in sunny Honolulu.

There has been plenty of grumbling among GOP insiders that lolling about the fronds and lagoons is not the best “optic,” to use a word favored among the Washington political-industrial establishment--especially at a time so many Americans are still struggling with the basics, like putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead.

“Do I want voters to think that Republicans do nothing but go to beach resorts in January?” House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia asked, rhetorically. “No.” (That statement in The Hill newspaper earned Cantor a slot as the featured quoted in Tuesday’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

But those of us who pulled rugged duty covering the four-day meeting, which opened Wednesday and continues until Saturday, have repeatedly been assured—and want our bosses to know--there is serious work underway. (And just to be sure, any of the fun stuff, such as luaus, whale-watching excursions and the like, have been left off the agenda distributed to reporters.)

"We're working hard out here,” Chairman Michael Steele, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and lei, told local television station KHON. “This is not a vacation,...

... this is a working meeting. This is our winter meeting, we're here to do the business of the party, and we'll get it done.”

 Gentry Collins, the party’s political director, further assured reporters at a briefing Wednesday that Hawaii (blue, blue Hawai'i) “is a key state for us” in 2010, when the state hosts open races for governor and a House seat. All the more reason to spend some hang time in paradise.

 “How are you enjoying the state?” came the first question from a local TV reporter.

 “It’s beautiful,” Collins replied. “I’m from Des Moines, Iowa, where it’s 10 degrees.”

 Hawaii Republicans lobbied for years to bring the RNC to town and always got the stiff-arm from the party for the same not-the-best-optic reason. Now that the GOP and its 168-member steering committee are in town—President Obama’s hometown, lest we forgot—local Republicans are feeling more than a little defensive.

Gov. Linda Lingle pointed out that “our hotel rates are less than what we pay when we go to Washington.” She addresses the gathering today and is doubtless grateful for the boost to the struggling tourist trade.

Still, you have to feel for those members of the party stuck back in Washington, listening to Obama’s State of the Union address in those crowded House chamber seats, rather than, say, plopped on a lounge chair with one of those frosty, little-umbrella drinks in hands.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) points out that House Republicans will hold their retreat in Baltimore, where the high temperature Wednesday was 43 degrees.

Mmmmm. Crabcakes!

--Mark Z. Barabak

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File photo: Honolulu's Waikiki Beach, where the RNC gathered for its winter meeting. Credit: Associated Press.