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Candidates for GOP Chairman to Debate

Sunday, 04 Jan 2009 12:45 PM

By Ronald Kessler

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To help the Republican Party choose its next leader and air the issues, candidates for the position of chairman will begin the new year by debating each other on Monday at 1 p.m. at the National Press Club.

Newsmax readers can submit questions and watch the debate at RNCdebate.org.

All six candidates for the Republican National Committee job will be participating in the debate, the first of its kind. They are Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Republican Party of Michigan; Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio; Katon Dawson, chairman of the Republican Party of South Carolina; Mike Duncan, chairman of the RNC; Chip Saltsman, former chairman of the Republican Party of Tennessee; and Michael Steele, chairman of GOPAC, which promotes Republican candidates.

The debate is the brainchild of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, which is sponsoring the event and will be funneling questions to the candidates.

“The Republican National Committee chairman is a very important job, always,” Norquist tells me. “But it’s particularly important when there’s not a Republican president.”

In that case, the RNC chairman can be the spokesman for the party, Norquist says.

“The RNC chairman has more money to spend on Republican politics, on conservative politics than anybody else because of all the money that flows to the RNC,” Norquist notes. “He determines the structure of the Republican Party moving forward.”

Historically, when the president is a Republican, he chooses the head of the RNC. That is not always a good thing: Norquist cites President Ronald Reagan’s choice of Maureen Reagan, his daughter from his first marriage, as co-chairman of the RNC in 1987.

“Just to give you some idea of how unpolitical she was, before she was co-chairman, when I was helping to get the Chassidic Jewish rebbe, or spiritual leader, of Boston to endorse Reagan for the presidency in 1980, he wanted to meet with him, get his picture taken, and then endorse,” Norquist says. “He was good for 3,000 votes in Massachusetts and maybe 20,000 votes in New York City. And he very much wanted to endorse Reagan and help him. He had never endorsed a presidential candidate before.”

The RNC decided to send Maureen Reagan – who died in 2001 – to meet with the rebbe.

“When she showed up in Boston, I warned her that he can’t have his picture taken with you, and he can’t shake your hand, because he can’t touch a woman other than his wife in public.”

Brushing past Norquist’s tips, Maureen Reagan said she knew all that. But as soon as she met the rebbe at his office in the Boston suburb of Brookline, “She rushed at the rebbe and wanted to shake hands with him,” Norquist says. An outspoken feminist, she then explained her position on abortion, which was quite different from her father’s anti-abortion position.

At the end of the meeting, Maureen wanted to have her photo taken with the rebbe.

“She kept going, ‘Rebbe, rebbe, come on, get in the picture!’” Norquist says.

Regardless of whether the president is a Republican, 168 individuals vote on the new chairman. This group consists of the state chairmen and party committee men and women of each state plus Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Washington, D.C. They will vote at the RNC’s winter meeting Jan. 28-31

When Norquist first broached the idea of a debate, some party leaders pooh-poohed it, saying the party alone should choose the next chairman.

“The answer is this should be a decision by the whole party,” Norquist says. “The goal is to open up the process to make people understand the stake they have in this job. This is an opportunity for the party to have a conversation about what the party should do.”

Besides being streamed on the ATR Web site, the debate is expected to be carried by C-SPAN.

As for the rebbe, he didn’t shake Maureen’s hand, and he passed on the picture. But he endorsed her father nonetheless.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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