AUSTIN, Texas – Brushing off concerns of a conflict of interest, Republican Party members unanimously voted to have former Montana governor Marc Racicot head up the Republican National Committee.
Accepting the position, Racicot pledged to continue aggressive fund raising while "adhering to the highest ethical standards and upholding the trust of the American people."
"I believe if we inspire our donors to give, reach into new communities for new voters, recruit quality candidates for office and invigorate our Republican base, we will succeed," he said.
President Bush tapped Racicot, a big supporter in the 2000 election, to lead the party during a tough mid-term election year, when control of Congress and dozens of statehouses is at stake.
Racicot replaces former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who resigned in December following the loss of two gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. Gilmore's own attorney general Mark Earley lost the Virginia race.
Racicot comes with his own set of baggage, however. Democrats want to pin a conflict of interest label on him because of his partnership in the law firm of Bracewell & Patterson.
Bracewell & Patterson lobbies out of its Washington office. Democrats made hay of Racicot's attempt to keep lobbying for the firm while running the RNC.
After much criticism, Racicot said that he would give up lobbying but maintain his partnership and continue to do legal work for the firm at its Washington office. He will not take the RNC salary while he continues to draw wages from the firm.
Bracewell & Patterson also did lobbying for energy giant Enron Corp. before its collapse in December. Some Democrats want to bring up Racicot's relationship to Enron, as well as Republican ties to the Houston-based firm. Several federal and state investigations are looking into the company's financial collapse.
Republicans have said publicly that Racicot's ties to Enron and the company's large campaign donations to Bush and other politicians should not hurt the party in the upcoming elections.
Maryland Republican state party Chairman Michael Steele said he had no problem with Racicot's ties to Enron.
"It's been disclosed and we know it's there," Steele said. "They've worked out the appropriate formulas so that he can assume the position."
Republicans this week have rebuffed suggestions that the party will try to avoid discussing Enron on the campaign trail, noting the company gave heavily to Republicans and Democrats alike.
"We want to talk about Enron," RNC spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Thursday. "We want to talk about the investigation. We want the American people to know what happened. We want to know what happened. There's not a desire not to talk about it."
In accepting the vote, Racicot also pledged to pull minorities into the party, particularly through voter registration drives for new citizens and intensive Spanish-language lessons for party leaders in key states.
"There is no greater priority than for us to expand the party," Racicot said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.