- The Washington Times
Friday, December 26, 2008

A power struggle that will determine the future leadership of the Republican Party has broken into the open as dissatisfied Republican leaders pushed for a meeting early next month that they hope will be the first step toward ending Washington-based control of the party.

In a move seen as a backlash against years of control of the Republican National Committee (RNC) by allies of President Bush and their District-based consulting firms, several senior members of the party’s governing body are working to call an extra meeting to hear from all candidates for national chairman three weeks before the election for the post is scheduled.

The effort is seen by party insiders as an attempt to allow all six candidates for chairman to have an equal shot at the job, rather than giving an edge to the incumbent chairman, Robert M. “Mike” Duncan.

The special session would assemble all 168 members of the RNC on Jan. 6, the same day the Conservative Steering Committee, a self-designated “conservative” rump group of about 80 RNC members, has scheduled its own meeting with the six national-chairman candidates as well as a straw poll, ostensibly to measure which candidate has the most conservative support.

If only the rump group met Jan. 6, it would mean that most RNC members would not have the opportunity to question the six candidates together, in person, until three weeks later, just before the members vote on a new chairman.

Some conservative RNC members suspect that the Conservative Steering Committee is not particularly conservative and that allies of Mr. Duncan are using the steering panel meeting to advance his re-election bid.

“What I am after is a level playing field for all candidates and a chance for members to address their concerns,” North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth told The Washington Times.

Mr. Emineth, abetted by RNC members Shawn Steel of California and Curly Haugland of North Dakota, began telephoning and e-mailing other RNC members Monday.

Mr. Emineth’s goal is to solicit enough petitions from RNC members to require Mr. Duncan to call the special meeting of the full committee for the morning of Jan. 6, leaving the steering committee to hold its meeting in the afternoon.

Mr. Duncan, who is seeking a second term as national chairman, was chosen two years ago by Karl Rove, who was then White House chief political strategist.

Mr. Emineth said the aim is to have all six candidates for national chairman appear before all 168 voting members of the RNC to answer questions and thus give the members sufficient time to weigh the candidates’ merits and prepare fresh questions when they reassemble for the Jan. 28-31 annual meeting and election in the District.

Two things triggered the idea for a special meeting. One was the formation of an ad hoc Conservative Steering Committee by three RNC members who said they wanted to ensure that a true philosophical conservative is elected national chairman. The other trigger was the steering committee’s scheduling the Jan. 6 invitation-only meeting in the District. The six candidates for chairman are invited to address the steering committee meeting, at which a straw poll will be held to see who is the favored conservative candidate.

“The idea of the Conservative Steering Committee wanting to have a meeting well in advance to the election is a good idea - it is the exclusivity of it that is the problem,” Mr. Emineth said. “What is the committee’s definition of a conservative? Who is to make the judgment of who is invited? What are the hidden agendas?”

“The purpose of petition is to directly challenge the so-called ‘straw vote’ from the so-called Conservative Steering Committee,” Mr. Steel wrote in an e-mail to other RNC members.

“This [steering] committee was formed as a Duncan enterprise,” Mr. Steel wrote. “Its chairman is a RNC vendor. The committee has members who are not conservative. And many conservatives have not been invited. It’s exclusive by design.”

Mr. Steel said he is convinced that the steering committee was selected to ensure that Mr. Duncan will wind up with a majority in the straw poll, which will be dutifully reported in the media and thus help persuade other RNC members that they had better get on board the Duncan train before it’s too late.

Mr. Emineth agreed, saying, “I know conservatives who haven’t been invited. So there’s some concern that this steering committee and straw poll are a put-up job.”

Some RNC members suspect that “other agendas” may be at play in the formation of the steering committee. They note that Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue and Indiana RNC members James Bopp Jr., two of the lead steering-committee organizers, were supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 Republican presidential nomination quest.

Mr. Yue declared his support of Mr. Duncan’s re-election bid. Texas RNC member Bill Crocker and South Carolina RNC member Cindy Costa are the other two steering committee co-chairs.

The day before they are to appear at the Jan. 6 steering committee meeting, the six candidates also have agreed to a debate at the National Press Club, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist.

Traditionally, when a Republican doesn’t occupy the Oval Office, RNC members chose a fellow member as chairman rather than rubber stamp the White House choice, who is often not a member.

Three of the six chairman candidates this time are RNC members: Mr. Duncan, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson. The three nonmember candidates are former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Tennessee Republican Chairman Chip Saltsman.

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