(Reid Wilson/Hotline On Call) – Conservative activist Grover Norquist will quiz candidates running for Republican National Committee chairman at a debate to be held just two weeks before elections, he told Hotline On Call Wednesday.
Norquist, who runs Americans for Tax Reform, will moderate the Jan. 3 debate at the National Press Club. It’s an effort, he says, to take the race for chairman beyond the 168 members of the national committee and to bolster transparency.
“Only 168 people get to vote, but this is going to affect everybody who wants limited government, and everybody who wants lower taxes, and everybody who wants the Reagan coalition to do well,” he said. “This is something that affects whatever part of the movement you’re in.”
The group held a similar debate in 2009, with the goal of opening what is a historically closed process of electing a new RNC chairman to the activist class. The 2009 debate, which streamed live on C-SPAN and the internet, drew tens of thousands of viewers.
ATR is soliciting questions from conservative bloggers and Tea Party organizations; last year, bloggers submitted nearly 1,000 questions. And Norquist pointed to several important questions about the dynamics of the race, especially about who gets involved.
“Whether it’s a challenge to [RNC chairman Michael] Steele, or Steele doesn’t run, the campaign after him is going to be interesting. Do the would-be presidential candidates put a finger on the scale? Do they leave it to the committee to decide?”
But the most important question, which candidates will actually run, remains up in the air. So far, only Michigan RNC member Saul Anuzis and former North Dakota party chairman Gary Emineth have said they will run. Anuzis has already committed to attending the debate, Norquist said.
Steele is less of a sure thing, but indications are that he will make a final decision on whether to seek a new term near Thanksgiving. Other candidates frequently mentioned as possible top-tier contenders include former RNC chair Mike Duncan, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, Connecticut Republican Party head Chris Healy, Wisconsin GOP chief Reince Priebus and former South Carolina chairman Katon Dawson.
Dawson and a group of prominent Republicans are said to be cajoling another possible contender into the race, though that seems less likely to occur.
Norquist said he isn’t certain whether Steele will run for a second term, that the prospects are “50-50” at the moment. But a public debate on Steele’s oft-criticized tenure is part of the goal of a national forum.
“I think there have been some obvious challenges,” Norquist said of Steele’s tenure. “The party’s been very successful even if somebody wanted to argue that decisions on spending could have been done differently.”
“That’s the kind of conversation that really needs to happen in public. This is part of that whole transparency thing,” he said.