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'Barack the Magic Negro' CD Raises Saltsman's Profile Ahead of RNC Chairmanship Debate

Republican operative Chip Saltsman (AP photo)

Chip Saltsman's CD gift containing a parody song called "Barack the Magic Negro" may have upped the candidate's profile in the coming Republican National Committee chairmanship race but the attention may not be the kind or amount Saltsman needs.

The former Tennessee Republican Party chairman drew considerable focus to himself after the gift, with its controversial song, was first reported by news media, but much of it was critical.

Saltsman showed he doesn't have "what it takes" to expand the party by reaching out to black and Hispanic voters, Republican strategist Margaret Hoover told FOXNews.com.

But Saltsman isn't deterred, and will join five candidates Monday as they make their appeals to head the battered Grand Old Party. 

The six declared contenders, including current RNC chairman Mike Duncan, get to offer their prescriptions for reform at an afternoon debate hosted by Americans for Tax Reform. The event comes just a few weeks before the party's 168 members vote for the next chairman in late January.

Duncan faces challenges from Saltsman; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is running on a ticket with Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Tina Benkiser; South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson; Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis; and GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele.

"I think all six candidates -- I think any of them would be a good chairman, and it's open," said Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, who will moderate Monday's discussion. "It's an open race. It's not in any way over."

Norquist said his debate will help open up a historically closed process, and predicted similar forums in future party elections.

Most of the candidates have drafted and circulated some sort of blueprint for the party's future in the run-up to the internal election. They lament losing touch with significant segments of the party base and generally call for a return to principles like fiscal responsibility, better use of technology and better voter registration and turnout operations.

But it's unclear whether anybody will mount a serious threat to Duncan, who despite the party's losses in November helped John McCain narrow the fundraising chasm between the Arizona senator and Barack Obama by spending millions of RNC money on ads for the GOP presidential nominee.

Still, the candidates are doing whatever they can to distinguish themselves from the pack.

Dawson pitches himself as a Washington outsider with a win-heavy record -- 80 percent, he says, since he assumed the chairmanship of the state party. He's promoting what he calls Project 3141, a plan to build a GOP presence in all 3,141 counties that would be his answer to the Democratic National Committee's so-called 50-state strategy.

"You judge political parties by wins and losses, and there is a thirst in the Republican Party to start winning again," Dawson told FOXNews.com.

Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland who is from a heavily Democratic county outside Washington, D.C., said donors have grown frustrated with the party and he plans to re-engage them in strategy discussions in an effort to rebuild its core principles. 

Steele riled up Republicans with his "drill, baby, drill" chant at the national convention in September. He says he has the chops to push the Republican message at a time when the party is out of power on Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I come from a slightly different history. I grew up in blue environments," said Steele, who is also a FOX News contributor.

Steele stresses the importance of new ethical standards for the party.  Along those lines, he criticized Saltsman for sending the parody CD to committee members over Christmas. 

"Chip knows better," Steele said. "You've got to be cautious, you've got to be smart, you've got to be appropriate. And unfortunately in this instance Chip was none of those things."

After the reports, Duncan released a statement saying he was "shocking and appalled" by Saltsman's actions. But it's possible the flap might actually help Saltsman -- an underdog against more established candidates -- raise his profile.

Saltsman was Mike Huckabee's campaign manager during the GOP presidential primaries, and also used to work for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Both his former bosses have endorsed him.

In response to the criticism, Saltsman wrote on his Web site that he recognizes the road a party resurgence begins with unity but "our party leaders should stand up against the media's double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal."

Saltsman also stresses on his site the need to employ the kind of online fundraising tactics that Obama used in the presidential campaign. He touts his work, as former state party chairman, defeating Al Gore in his home state of Tennessee during the 2000 presidential race.

Saltsman did not return requests for comment from FOXNews.com.

Blackwell, who excused Saltsman's action by calling the media hypersensitive about race issues, said he wants to return the party to principles of limited government and strong defense and use technology more effectively to target voters.

He promises, with Benkiser, to "overhaul" the way the RNC operates. And he touts his conservative credentials, pointing to his involvement with groups like the Family Research Council, the Club for Growth, the Coalition for a Conservative Majority and the National Rifle Association.

Anuzis has also mounted a serious campaign, releasing a slick "Blueprint for a GOP Comeback," which calls for boosted interaction with state parties and other changes.

Launching his bid on Twitter, he is emphasizing his tech-savvy appeal.

"I blog and Twitter and Facebook. I understand how communities are built and nurtured on the web and I know how to lead our comeback online," Anuzis says on his Web site. "We will not sit idly by while the left co-opts our young people into service without a challenge."

Meanwhile, Duncan has formed a new conservative think tank called the Center for Republican Renewal that he is weaving into his pitch to fellow RNC members.

Duncan, no doubt mindful of the technological deficit facing the party, released a YouTube message on his Web site calling for a more "member-driven" committee to broaden the party's appeal. He says the Center for Republican Renewal will be a vehicle for members to have more involvement with the party policies.

"My vision is that we'll win elections through the power of our ideas and with the financial resources to run aggressive, technologically savvy nuts-and-bolts campaigns," Duncan says.