The chairman of the Republican National Committee said Tuesday that his party's presidential field would solidify soon and that he expected the nomination battle to be tidy enough to give the party a fighting chance against President Obama in 2012.
FOR THE RECORD An earlier online version of this article quoted Reince Priebus as saying, "I think that makes all of the candidates plenty of time to make their case without having a national primary." Priebus actually said: "I think that gives all of the candidates plenty of time to make their case without having a national primary."
Reince Priebus also told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that he was working to bring some order to a cluttered schedule of forums featuring what few candidates there were at this point.
The first, a debate hosted by Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, is scheduled to take place May 5.
"The Republican National Committee is seeking to either sponsor, sanction, put a Republican stamp on a limited number of debates," Priebus said. The panel is trying to "bring at least some order to the idea of having 50 different debates with 50 different groups and a gazillion different media outlets."
No candidate so far has met the established guidelines to participate in the May 5 South Carolina debate. To date, only two top-flight candidates have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission to seek the presidency. One prominent Republican who was expected to run – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour – announced Monday that he would not.
But Priebus said there was still plenty of time for candidates to come forward, and the field should be "pretty solidified" by Labor Day.
"We don't actually believe that we're not going to have candidates running around Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina vying for votes," he said. "I think at the end of the day this is going to come down to whether or not the American people are satisfied with the direction that we're going in this country economically, whether or not people believe they're better off today than they were three years ago, and then having a viable alternative on the field to counter Barack Obama."
Priebus conceded that Florida could force other states to move their contests before the proscribed window if it did not move its primary, though he's confident that won't come to pass and that "we're going to get some semblance of sanity here in the primary process."
Priebus, the former state GOP chairman of Wisconsin who replaced Michael Steele as national chairman in January, said he had had positive discussions with Florida leaders about their primary, which by party rules can't occur sooner than March 6 but that Florida law currently places in late January.
"I'm confident that we're getting to a pretty good place," he said. "We're working with them, and they're an important piece of the puzzle."
Rules are intended to protect the leadoff roles of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina while avoiding a lengthy nomination battle.
"I think that gives all of the candidates plenty of time to make their case without having a national primary," he said. "I don't think that's prolonged. And I think it's a good balance."
The state party chairs of Iowa and South Carolina have said that if Florida insists on violating that prescribed window that Republicans should pull the August nominating convention from Tampa, something Priebus definitively ruled out.
"We're having the convention in Tampa," he said. "We're well on the way to putting on one of the best conventions that we've ever seen in our country."