The RNC Chairman’s race goes rouge

Up until yesterday afternoon, I had planned on making an outright prediction that Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus would become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee.

However, in light of yesterday’s announcement that current RNC Chairman Michael Steele is running for re-election, the all-but-certain victory scenario for the former Steele loyalist turned opponent is a little less certain.  Although Steele is bruised and battered to some extent, he still has key allies on the 168-member committee that will vote at the upcoming RNC winter meeting starting on January 12, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

The race for RNC Chairman is getting crowded.  They include former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, former RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner, former RNC Deputy Chairman Maria Cino and former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins.  There is the possibility former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan will get into the race soon.  Although former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman has signaled interest in running, he has stated publically he won’t run if Steele runs again.

When Priebus announced his plan to run for RNC Chairman a little over a week ago, I have to imagine part of the equation involved Steele getting out somehow.  In fact, Priebus likely calculated his entry into the race would be enough to push Steele out.  It obviously wasn’t enough.

Unfortunately, trouble may come for Priebus when he joins Steele on a crowded ballot next month.

Priebus helped manage Steele’s organization and victory nearly two years ago.  The coalition that helped elect Steele in 2009 will be split this time, giving other candidates running for chairman a shot to do well on the first ballot.  A winner is only declared when they receive the majority of the 168 votes.  In 2009, it took six ballots to declare Steele the winner after several candidates dropped out.

I imagine this has to be uncomfortable for Priebus at some level.  Some even wonder if Steele is defying conventional wisdom to not run for re-election because of Priebus’s decision to run against him.   It’s a tough thing to have your lieutenant walk away and challenge you.

So, the chairman’s race has gone rogue.  There’s no script, no plan, it’s a free for all.  This is what happens when a national party is without a White House.  One must wonder if this is an early indication as to how the Republican primary for president will go in 2012.    

At the end of the day, I don’t believe Steele will prevail.  There were way too many embarrassing episodes and the issue of lackluster fundraising numbers will come back to haunt Steele.  The 168-member Republican National Committee has enough reason to elect new leadership and they will do so next month.

I had planned on offering a preview of potential candidates to replace Priebus at the RPW should he win the RNC Chairmanship.  However, in light of Steele’s reemergence, I think it’s best to reserve comment on that for now.