Despite criticism from the media and fellow Republicans, Republican National Committee head Michael Steele is becoming more likely to win a second term as the chairman of the 168-member body.
Steele may be unpopular in Washington, D.C. – his critics have pointed to poor money management and several high profile gaffes – but the votes that matter are scattered across the country, and Steele has had a substantial head start in wooing members.
Each state, the five territories, and the District of Columbia have three votes to elect the chairman of the RNC, and Steele has a good shot at garnering the 85 votes needed to win.
Steele’s incumbent advantages have given him an early lead. For example, his recent “Fire Pelosi” bus tour included stops in 48 states, and even his closest supporters won’t deny that it has allowed him the benefit of reaching out to many of the committee’s members. As chairman of the RNC, Steele has also been able to steer money towards his allies.
Meanwhile, opposition has been slow to solidify, and every day without declared challengers is a win for Steele. The RNC winter meeting, where the vote for the chairmanship will be held, is in early January. A source within the RNC tells FrumForum that the vote is likely to be on or around January 15th, and will take place at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Maryland (.85 miles outside of the D.C. Beltway!).
This means that only about 60 days remain between now and the vote. Campaigning for the chairmanship means more than just calling members – it means flying out to RNC members’ states and assuring them that their interests will be well represented. Factor in the Christmas holidays, and any potential challenger has only about 50 days to reach out to 168 members.
Steele has himself insisted that he hasn’t decided whether or not to run for reelection, but this may simply be a tactic to avoid becoming a target too early. With such a large head start, why should he risk the public attention?
The chairman has also been blessed with a dearth of viable opposition candidates. Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina state chair, is still weakened by the accusation that he’s a racist; Chris Healy, the Connecticut state chair, saw his state go overwhelmingly blue in a Republican wave cycle; Gary Emineth of North Dakota doesn’t have much support outside the Midwest. Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has pledged not to run against Steele, and in any case hasn’t laid the groundwork for a bid.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reported yesterday that Henry Barbour, the National Committeeman from Mississippi, has approached Reince Priebus, Wisconsin’s state chair, to run against Steele. This seems unlikely – Priebus was one of the first to endorse Steele in the last election, and led Steele’s transition efforts. Further, a FrumForum analysis of FEC reports shows that Priebus’ Wisconsin state GOP has been the recipient of $54,368 from Steele’s RNC over the last cycle.
As Hotline on Call’s Reid Wilson noted just a few months ago, “Priebus is perhaps Steele’s closest ally on the committee… Priebus will not run if Steele does; in fact, he won’t make any moves without Steele’s blessing.” Wilson is seldom wrong about RNC-related matters.
Steele’s case to RNC members for his re-elect will be something like: “Look at the 2009 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and the 60+ seat gain in the House last week – not to mention wins in governors and senate races across the country. I’ve worked hard for Republican candidates. Yes, I’ve had a steep learning curve, but actions speak louder than words, and my actions have had the effect of electing Republicans.”
It seems that, for the time being, those who oppose Michael Steele haven’t found a committed candidate to coalesce around. Until that point, this controversial chairman’s odds for reelection will continue to improve.
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