Republicans are edging closer to naming a chairman of the committee that will draft the party’s platform at the nominating convention in New York, with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) emerging as the leading candidate.
Sources off Capitol Hill indicated Frist was the most likely selection, but aides on the Hill cautioned that neither the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign team nor the Republican National Committee had made a final choice on the platform job.
Frist said Wednesday he wanted to deflect all questions about the platform committee to the Bush campaign, but he acknowledged it’s something he’s considering if the president wants him to do it.
“We’re starting all those discussions now,” he said. “Until the campaign makes an announcement, I’m not making any comment.”
The chairmanship of the platform committee is one of the few relatively high-profile positions available at the Republican National Convention in late August, albeit one with plenty of risk.
While the platforms that are drafted and ratified at both party conventions are largely symbolic documents, the more than 100 delegates who take part in that effort take their jobs very seriously. With each party’s delegates generally made up of activists from the far right and left, respectively, sometimes bitter fights ensue that can leave the platform chairman gasping for political air in an effort to find middle ground.
With the days of old-fashioned floor fights over nominating presidential and vice-presidential candidates a thing of the past, reporters sometimes latch onto platform fights as one of the few major issues to cover at the conventions.
But a smoothly run platform committee can give a lawmaker like Frist a boost with activists he might not otherwise meet.
If Frist doesn’t take the platform post, one of his 50 other GOP Senate colleagues is certain to get the chairmanship because of internal Republican rules on the platform committee.
The committee is always led by a three-person council of one Republican governor, one House Member and one Senator. The chairmanship of the platform committee rotates every four years among the governors, House Members and Senators.
In 1996, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) chaired the platform committee and then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) chaired it in 2000, leaving this turn to one of the GOP’s 51 Senators.
The other members of the platform committee and its subcommittees come from the thousands of GOP delegates from all 50 states, and not all of those delegates have been selected yet.
If Frist does take over the committee, he is almost certain to give Eric Ueland, his deputy chief of staff, a top position in crafting the platform. Ueland, a policy and parliamentary expert, has worked on past platform committees, beginning in 1992 when his old boss, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), chaired the platform committee for the GOP convention in Houston.
The timing of the announcement of this year’s platform chairman remains unclear. Aides at the RNC said a meeting would be held on the matter this week and that something could be announced as early as next week.
Frist said he expected an announcement “in the next couple weeks.”
If he takes the job, Frist will already have some platform committee experience, having served as the Senate’s representative on the committee in the 2000 cycle.
For Frist, that was a fortuitous experience, leading to his first real dealings with Mitch Bainwol, who was the top staffer on that platform committee. By the end of the 2000 campaign Frist had been voted by his colleagues to take over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2002 cycle, selecting Bainwol as the NRSC’s executive director.