RNC prepares to start a long calendar debate

The GOP will plot ways to retake the White House at the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) biennial meeting, which starts Wednesday, but first the party will have to determine just how it wants to select its 2012 nominee.

Members of a select RNC panel aimed at reforming the primary process will hold their first meeting during the four-day-long meeting in San Diego. And members of the full committee will be allowed to testify on behalf of their preferred remedies.

“This is going to be the most important initial meeting that will give us an idea of where the [RNC] is,” said Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan Republican Party chairman, who is a member of the panel. “Everything is on the table. There is no preconceived plan.”

Any changes need to be approved by two-thirds of the RNC to take effect, which concerns some members who worry no major solutions will present themselves.

“Most people on the committee think the system is broken and want to change it,” said Ron Kaufman, the national committeeman from Massachusetts who has long been involved in calendar fights.

But, he says, those who will propose solutions have ulterior motives: “It’s not about what’s best for electing a president. It’s about what’s best to make them players” in the nominating process, he noted.

The drive to revamp the primary process has been in the works for a decade or more. Early last year, competing plans that would have instituted a regional primary scheme or a grouping of states by population failed to earn the necessary votes to move forward.

Now the committee has another chance, and, working with reformers at the Democratic National Committee, some are optimistic about the prospects of at least pushing back the beginning of the 2012 primary calendar to February.

If the two parties cooperate, Republicans can avoid a situation where they would be forced to hold a convention or a caucus if a primary is moved late in the game, thus ensuring wider participation that the smaller gatherings would not allow.

“The far-right wing of the [GOP] always does better in caucuses and conventions, and that’s the unintended consequence I worry about,” said one RNC member who asked not to be named.

Final decisions are not expected until next summer, when the special panel must report to the entire RNC.

RNC members will have more to do this week than debate calendars and enjoy San Diego’s sun and surf. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a potential 2012 contender whose profile has grown in recent weeks, will address the body in a keynote speech on Thursday.

In the wake of scandals that have sidelined South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Pawlenty has emerged as a leading possible presidential contender. His speech, a traditional thank-you to Republicans from the state in which the previous year’s convention was held, will introduce him to a load of heavy-hitting Republicans he would need if he decides to mount his own bid.

Pawlenty will dine with several state party chairmen and spend his time meeting with RNC members, many of whom have yet to get to know him.

“We’re going through a transitionary phase right now, which happens every now and then. I think we’re having a change-out in leadership,” said Randy Pullen, chairman of the Arizona GOP and the RNC’s treasurer. He is among those having dinner with Pawlenty. The Minnesota governor “is a guy that knows how to get things done,” he noted.

“Being a governor of Minnesota and a Republican is no easy thing,” Pullen added.

Members will also begin a long process overseeing the committee’s plans to influence redistricting efforts over the next two and a half years. The party has already hired a veteran number-cruncher to guide its efforts, and a panel will meet on Saturday to begin to find out the position the GOP is in in several key states.

Though one committee member said the party is “behind the eight-ball” thanks to years of inattention since the last redistricting, others say Republicans are well-positioned to hold their own for the decade to come.

“We have expertise going back 100 years on this. We have probably some of the smartest numerical statisticians in the country,” said Shawn Steel, a national committeeman from California who sits on the redistricting panel.

“We’re anticipating a great deal of litigation, some of which will go to the Supreme Court,” Steel added. “There’s a lot in flux. It’s a massive chess game.”