Acting outside the confines and rules of the Republican National Committee, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) announced its intentions to host a debate for the 6 announced candidates – Mike DuncanMichael SteeleSaul AnuzisKen BlackwellKaton DawsonChip Saltsman – vying for the Republican helm on January 5, 2008. Norquist invited all 168 committee members to the debate, though they will not be permitted to ask any direct questions of the candidates. The committee members’ notable exclusion from ATR’s debate seemed to be an issue of contention for North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth, who, much to the ire of grassroots party activists, told The Hill, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the public thinks; it matters what 168 of us think.”

In a legitimate, but wholly uncommon move, Emineth began circulating a petition early last week among national committee members calling for a special session of the body prior to the committee’s already-scheduled January meeting. The special meeting would have no purpose aside from a RNC Chairman debate.

Characterizing the selection of the party’s next Chairman as one of the “most important things [they will] do as the national committee,” Emineth began floating the uncommon proposal with the intention of granting committee members the opportunity to directly question candidates for RNC Chairman. Morton Blackwell, regarded as one of the Party’s premiere parliamentarians, said Emineth’s call, while extremely rare, was conducted in a legitimate manner. And given current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan’s intention to seek a second term at the helm of the committee, Emineth argues it was the only avenue to avoid the perception of impropriety were the RNC headquarters – which remains under Duncan’s control – to initiate the call.

Emineth’s call for the special session remained unanswered, that is, until tonight.

According to the rules adopted by the Republican National Committee:

“Upon written petition of sixteen (16) or more members of the Republican National Committee, representing no fewer than sixteen (16) states, filed jointly or severally with the chairman, requesting a meeting of the Republican National Committee, it shall be the duty of the chairman, within ten (10) days from receipt of said petition, to issue a call for a meeting of the Republican National Committee, to be held in a city to be designated by the chairman, the date of such called meeting to be not later than twenty (20) days or earlier than ten (10) days from the date of the call.”

Bound by the rules of the party — which he had a hand in crafting — RNC Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan sent an email to all national Committee men and women and state party Chairs and Executive Directors to issue a call for a special meeting of the 168 voting members Republican National Committee. The session, prompted first by Emineth’s petition and the support of 15 fellow committee members, will be held in Washington, D.C. on January 7th, 2008 – the same week as ATR’s debate.

The extent to which Grover Norquist could have potentially affected this race just plummeted for two reasons: Committee members want to have their questions asked, and not necessarily those of “base” supporters (The national party apparatus sets strategy, not policy – a distinction many well-intentioned activists don’t understand). And lastly, intra-party elections are unique: voters are educated and candidates are known quantities. The debates held by ATR, the Conservative Steering Committee, and now Emineth, will now more than likely not affect the outcome of the election.

Cross-posted at