Budding political student challenges national committee chairman

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 14 2010 12:21 a.m. MST

Tom Shultz, a 22-year-old BYU senior, has started a website to oust Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — There are plenty of people clamoring for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to resign. Including 22-year-old Tom Schultz, who balanced his campaign to topple the national politician with studying for finals at BYU and attempts at a social life — a tough combination, he laughingly admits.

"I try to spend as much time as I can in politics, even while I'm in school," he said. "I see it as necessary. I feel like I have a moral obligation to learn how to win, and in the future I want to win. I want to help conservatives get elected. In order to do that, you have to sacrifice sometimes."

Right now the budding political operative's sacrifice is about 20 (unpaid) hours a week as he gears up for the mid-January RNC committee chairman election. It's an unheralded election, but it's a big deal, he asserts.

So big, that "if we don't get a new chairman, then it is very unlikely that we'll beat Barack Obama in 2012," he said. Schultz was hoping Steele would bow out of the race, yet Steele announced his bid for re-election Monday night.

Schultz's website replacemichaelsteele.com/ attacks one of Steele's proclaimed strengths: his bond with the younger generation.

"It's not so much about the numbers on the petition, rather it was a message that Michael Steele … frequently brags about how great he's doing among the youth, and quite frankly, I don't see that," Schultz said.

And Shultz is a tough customer, thanks to training in Washington, D.C., and experience staffing a recent successful campaign to get his brother Matt Schultz elected to secretary of state in Iowa.

"(Schultz) brings a level of sophistication that's beyond anything I've ever seen in a student," said BYU political science professor Quin Monson. "He comes to classes having already essentially managed a statewide campaign. That's pretty unusual."

Whether it's Shultz' grassroots message, his youthful voice or his age-belying experiences, his message is rising above the blogging din and grabbing attention from places like the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo.com — a monumental achievement, says BYU political science professor Adam Brown.

"So many people are trying to have their voices heard, a few will break through and have their moment," he said. "On the occasion when someone does manage to make a splash with a blog, Twitter account or Facebook account, it's almost the exception to the rule."

Yet, perhaps other politically minded youth might be motivated by the success of people like Schultz, said Kirk Jowers, associate professor of political science and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"One complaint you … hear from students is this concern that they are irrelevant because the special interests have so much money and influence," he said. "Hopefully, as they find these avenues where they can have an impact, it will take that excuse out of political inactivity."

The perpetually, politically active Schultz is most upset by Steele's lack of fundraising.

In 2002, the RNC raised $284 million, Schultz said, rattling off dollar figures like some college students recite NBA or NFL scores. In 2006, it was $243. But this year? Only $170 million.

"That really hurt the Republicans' ground game," he said. "The Democrats beat us on the ground. Had we had a stronger ground game, we could have picked up about 20 more House seats and two more Senate races."

His other complaint is the RNC's "ridiculous burn rate." Under past leaders, the RNC has spent about 50 cents of every dollar earned. But under Steele, they are chewing through 70 cents of every dollar.

Steele has also gained negative attention for various offensive and insensitive comments, as well as allegedly profiting from RNC speeches.

So, Schultz is gathering signatures to convince the 168 voting members of the RNC that Steele must go.

He didn't expect the national attention, though he welcomes the discussion through his website and its various links to Twitter, Facebook, Digg and YouTube.

"Technology is a great hope for young people," Jowers said. "It's a chance for them to have their voice heard and to mobilize in their own way to have an impact. It's good to see someone trying to harness it … on something he feels passionately about."

sisraelsen@desnews.com

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