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RNC Battle About Waiting for the Alternative

Members of the Republican National Committee will pick a new chairman next month, and the odds are pretty good that it wont be the current occupant of that position, Michael Steele.

Steele, of course, has drawn plenty of criticism over the past two years, and recent revelations about excessive spending by the RNCs 2012 Committee on Arrangements would seem to put an end to talk that Steele will win another two-year term.

I say it would seem to put an end to Steeles tenure because he hasnt yet announced his intentions, other potential RNC hopefuls remain on the sidelines and Steele has a bloc of support in the committee (including in places such as the U.S. territories, which cant vote for president but have a say in the party chairmanship) that is not inconsiderable.

Every day that there is not a formidable alternative is a day that Michael Steele is closer to victory, veteran Republican consultant John Grotta said.

Still, Steeles prospects of hanging onto the chairmanship arent good, and a handful of Republicans have either begun campaigns for the chairmanship or continue to look at possible bids.

Two Republican operatives, Maria Cino and Gentry Collins, have made no secret of their interest in running the committee for the next two years.

Cino has served as chief of staff for Rep. Bill Paxon (N.Y.), as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as deputy chairwoman of the RNC and as deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation. (She served almost three months as acting secretary at DOT after Norman Mineta left that position.)

Collins, a former executive director of the Iowa GOP, political director at the Republican Governors Association and operative for Mitt Romneys 2008 Iowa presidential campaign, recently left his position as political director of the RNC, blasting Steeles tenure at the committee.

The problem for Cino and Collins is that RNC members, who include GOP state party chairmen and national committeemen from all states, see themselves as a small club, and they almost never see staffers as having enough heft to run the partys national committee.

Your average state chairman or national committeeman doesnt want his state party staff thinking that they can challenge him for his job, so chairmen or national committee members arent inclined to support a staffer for party chairman, one veteran GOP insider said.

A handful of current or former national committeemen are either in the race or considering their candidacies. Former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan was a surprise attendee at a late Wednesday panel for contenders.

So far, the candidates have taken thinly veiled shots at Steeles tenure.

As Chairman of the RNC, Ill do the work behind the scenes not out in front of the camera to restore the faith of the committees supporters, and empower a grassroots army with the tools and technologies to end the Obama presidency before he destroys our country, said Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan Republican Party chairman who ran against Steele in 2009 and was the first to enter this year.

Anuzis comment on his website about working behind the scenes is a reference to RNC members unhappiness with Steeles very visible role at the committee and their interest in finding a new chairman who will emphasize party-building and fundraising, not media appearances.

Former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner, who served as co-chairwoman of the RNC from 2001 to 2005, jumped into the race this week. President George W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Luxembourg in 2005.

In a video announcing her candidacy and listing her credentials, Wagner emphasized that fundraising must come first and that we also must have greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the RNCs budget and expenditures two obvious shots across Steeles bow.

Other names receive mention, including Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, but the most formidable potential candidate may well be Reince Priebus, the chairman of Wisconsins Republican Party.

An attorney who is general counsel for the RNC, Priebus was a supporter of Steele. But the Wisconsin Republican has picked up considerable support from influential members of the committee who are fed up with Steele, and he is now widely regarded as the favorite in the race if he decides to run.

Even with all the buzz about the contest, some think that the focus on the Republican chairmanship exaggerates its importance. After all, they note, with control of the House and so many new governors, the party doesnt need a national spokesman.

Even more important, by the spring of 2012, the party is likely to have an apparent presidential nominee, who at that point will essentially take over the RNC and use it as an appendage of the presidential campaign.

But others think that the partys success less than 24 months from now depends on a strong party structure.

Republicans are so pumped about their opportunity now that they have forgotten that you need a good foundation [entering a presidential race cycle]. Right now, they dont have it at the RNC, Grotta said.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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