Most Republican National Committee members appear strongly opposed to Michael Steele’s bid to return as RNC chairman, which increasingly looks like a long shot according to various reports.
News of the uphill battle that Steele faces to win re-election comes as the five candidates for the RNC chairmanship squared off Monday in a debate at the National Press Club.
Politico reported that Steele’s path to re-election appeared “all-but-impossible.” That’s because 88 of the 168 RNC members have announced they intend to support someone else for the job.
The site reports that 55 of the 88 have indicated they won’t support the controversial incumbent no matter what. The other 33 have lined up to support one of the other candidates.
Perhaps of greatest concern to Steele supporters: No RNC member cited Steele as their second choice. The contest for RNC chairman is likely to involve multiple ballots, with the successful candidate winning over voters in the later rounds of balloting.
University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry J. Sabato has predicted Steele will lose his campaign for re-election.
“Steele is a nice fellow, but he is blamed even by his friends for a sub-par performance by the RNC during the 2010 elections,” Sabato tells Newsmax. “Many GOP operatives believe the RNC’s dramatically reduced presence in the ground game cost the Republicans some governorships and Senate seats. They don’t want to see that again in 2012.”
The candidates who are debating with Steele today: Former Steele aide Reince Priebus, who appears to be the front-runner for the post; Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who ran against Steele for the chairmanship in 2009, but lost; former Bush-era
Transportation Secretary Maria Cino, who has received high-profile support from GOP icons Mary Matalin and former Vice President Dick Cheney; and Ann Wagner, the chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party.
Early in Monday’s debate, Priebus touched on the need to bolster RNC fundraising efforts. “I think our first priority has to be and must be electing Republicans,” he said. “But to do that, we need money.”
Steele countered by pointing to his efforts to expand the GOP tent, saying the midterms brought “a level of activism that was I think long overdue and welcome in this party.”
Another contender, Gentry Collins, pulled out of the race Sunday evening.
Collins, the RNC’s former political director, blasted Steele’s management of the organization when he resigned from the organization last month. Shortly after resigning he announced that he would oppose Steele’s bid for re-election.
A similarly bleak picture of Steele’s prospects is evident in a recent National Journal survey of RNC committee members. Of the 76 RNC committee members on record supporting a candidate, according to that report, Priebus had garnered the support of 30 of them.
Fifteen members had lined up for Steele, followed by 12 for Wagner and 10 for Anuzis. Despite her strong support from some GOP quarters, Cino had lined up just six votes.
Steele’s tenure as the RNC chair has been hampered by a series of gaffe’s and disclosures that have complicated Republican efforts to raise contributions and stay on message. Perhaps the most damaging ws the revelation that RNC funds had been used to pay for expenses incurred in a bondage-themed strip club.
But Steele’s supporters say the GOP’s landslide victory in November shows Steele’s strategy of expanding the GOP’s fundraising base by targeting smaller donors has worked.
Steele may be losing some supporters he has been counting on. Over the holidays one committee member who was a longtime Steele backer, Shawn Steel of California, threw her support to Priebus. Also, RNC communication director Doug Heye announced he would leave the organization, in order to help the next RNC chairman make a “clean transition.”
A further sign Steele’s inner circle is narrowing came Monday, with the announcement that Steele’s chief of staff, Michael Leavitt, is leaving the RNC. Both Leavitt and Heye worked on Steel’s unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate campaign.
The RNC’s next chairman is expected to play an important role in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Some insiders have expressed concern that Steele’s penchant for off-the-cuff remarks will make it difficult to counter disciplined messaging coming from the White House, as President Obama seeks to hone his appeal to independent voters who swung to Republicans in the midterms.
Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax that “for a party trying to offer a message of accountability and fiscal discipline, it would be very difficult for the Republicans to stay on message if Michael Steele stays as head of the RNC.”
Among the top issues the candidates for RNC chairman are expected to discuss:
- Fundraising. The RNC fell far short of its fundraising goals in the past election cycle. By some accounts it faces a deficit of over $20 million as it enters the 2012 cycle.
- The tea party. The grass-roots conservatives won’t have much influence over the insider-GOP election, but the new chairman will have to find a way to engage their support and energy.
- The 2012 election. The new chairman will have to devise a strategy to maximize the GOP’s chances in the next election.
- Countering the Obama agenda. Wagner has voiced concerns about European-style socialism coming to America’s shores, and other candidates will also slam the president’s policies to show they can offer an articulate voice in opposition to him.
The election for the RNC chairman post will be held on January 14.
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