Texas GOP set to defy RNC on early primary

New names surface for party chief to deny Steele a 2nd term

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | The chairman of the Texas Republican Party will try to jump his state ahead of other less-conservative states in the 2012 presidential-nomination contest, The Washington Times has learned.

But the move would cost the nation’s second most-populous state at the 2012 Tampa, Fla., convention under primary-scheduling rules approved at the Republican National Committee meeting here, a risk that the Texas party says it might take.

“We are more likely to get a Ronald Reagan than a John McCain to head our national ticket if we have a February primary,” Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri told The Times, thumbing his nose at a just-concluded vote by the 168-member RNC to penalize any state that schedules its presidential nominating contest before April 2012. The four exceptions are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Meanwhile, Republicans desperate to head off a second term for RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele are floating several new names as possible successors after veteran RNC member David A. Norcross, 73, told allies he has no interest in the post.

The developments came at one of the most eventful Republican National Committee meetings in memory. But for supporters of Mr. Steele, a highlight of the meeting was his smothering opponents’ hopes of embarrassing him with a no-confidence vote.

Mr. Steele has given every indication he intends to seek another two-year term, which could prompt a major fight over the RNC’s top post in early 2011.

But Mr. Norcross, who is credited with overseeing the successful 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, told allies on the national committee that he is too busy with other tasks to consider a run.

Among the names now being floated are former Oklahoma Gov. Frank A. Keating, who is said by some fellow Republicans to have an interest in the post, and former RNC Co-Chairman Ann Wagner, who was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Luxembourg.

Mr. Norcross is among several RNC members that Steele loyalists on the national committee suspect of having leaked to the press damaging information about RNC finances and management.

At the start of the four-day meeting here, 25 state chairmen secretly voted to search out leakers in the RNC’s ranks - and immediately leaked their move to CNN. Later in the meeting, when Mr. Steele announced his plans to lead a presidential-campaign-style “Fire Nancy Pelosi” bus tour of the country this fall, some RNC members noted that he will also be informally running for re-election.

The RNC also voted itself the power to borrow $5 million on top of the $5 million line of credit it already had, the reason being that the RNC faces the daunting challenge of helping to finance more competitive House and Senate contests in more states this fall than at any other time in memory.

For some conservatives, the most important move was Mr. Munisteri’s decision to try to persuade his state’s Legislature to set the earliest possible date for the presidential primary. As the most populous “red” state, Texas is potentially among the most influential in determining that nominee - if its primary voters get to make their pick ahead of most other large and medium-sized states.

Sponsors of the change said their goal is to stretch out the time needed for a candidate to accumulate enough delegates to lock up the party’s presidential nomination. They want to make it necessary to campaign in as many states as possible and give voters more time to look over the nomination hopefuls.

California and New York, both much more liberal than Texas, are the two biggest states that had tentatively scheduled their 2012 presidential primaries for Feb. 7, about the same date as their 2008 primaries. But under rules approved by the RNC over the weekend, holding a primary before April would result in complicated convention-delegate selection penalties for any state other than the four exempted ones.

Violating states will have their delegates to the national nominating convention apportioned among the candidates proportionately, instead of by a winner-take-all system that can make valuable a victory even in a small state.

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