NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the first days of the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting constitute the last days of the races for RNC offices and potentially the end of Chairman Michael Steele’s tenure, the meeting becomes a series of conversations between members.
The 168 members and hordes of staffers and reporters descended upon the sprawling Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center earlier this week, with some Southerners flying in early to avoid weather-related delays. The annual winter meeting kicked off on Wednesday, punctuated by panels, organizational meetings and receptions. The highlight Friday is the elections — candidates for chairman, co-chairman, treasurer and secretary need at least two of the three members of three states’ delegation in order to get on the ballot. It’s a hurdle each of the five candidates for chairman appears to have passed.
Close observers could witness just about anything in the hallways over the past few days. On Friday, Steele was spotted exchanging pleasantries with candidate Ann Wagner. Candidate Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, told Roll Call that he’d be fine if he loses. “It’s in God’s hands,” he said.
Earlier in the week, the North Dakota delegation conducted a job interview for a new executive director near the hotel’s registration desk.
Once a candidate qualifies for the ballot, though, the real work begins. A candidate needs 85 votes, one more than half of the RNC’s total membership of 168, in order to win. None of the candidates will likely have 85 votes on the first ballot, so each candidate is lining up votes for the second and third ballots in hopes of candidates dropping out and making more votes up for grabs. It took Steele six ballot rounds to secure enough votes in 2009.
Priebus, considered a frontrunner in the five-person race for chairman, said Wednesday night he was lining up votes on second and third ballots. His whip team retired to a guest room to strategize, passing a board listing the strengths of fellow candidate Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP, on their way.
Across the hotel, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) hosted a private reception to thank members for their help during the 2010 elections. Earlier in the day he officially endorsed former RNC official Maria Cino for chairman. Though not all of the candidates for chairman attended the reception, Cino was there and a number of staffers wore Maria for Chairman stickers.
South Carolina Committeeman Glenn McCall said he would use a private Thursday afternoon forum to decide on his second choice for chairman if Anuzis drops out of the race.
In between administrative sessions and committee meetings, RNC members camped out in the members’ lounge with refreshments and computers with Internet access.
The rules committee created a stir when it debated a change that would no longer require the RNC’s co-chairman to be the opposite gender of the party chairman, which has caused problems in the chairman’s race since two candidates are women. A couple of members noted that the co-chairman’s role also needs to be better defined, and they referred the change to a committee and planned to take it up again at the summer meeting.
The climax will come on Friday, building from breakfasts in the morning where regional elections will be decided to an epic meeting where the RNC leadership elections will take place. The meeting, which C-SPAN will broadcast, is scheduled to last from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Though the chairman’s race will get the headlines, multiple members have declared their candidacies for the other offices, with the possible exception of the race for co-chairman. If a man wins the chairman’s race, current Co-Chairman Jan Larimer, the national committeewoman from Wyoming, will compete with current Secretary Sharon Day, the national committeewoman from Florida. If a woman is elected chairman, however, only Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere Jr. has asked for votes.
Villere said being unopposed has not changed his style of campaigning: “I’m running like there are five guys running against me,” he said Wednesday night.
And three members are vying for treasurer: current Treasurer Randy Pullen, chairman of the Arizona Republican party; California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring, who also chairs the RNC State Chairmen’s Committee; and D.C. Committeeman Tony Parker. Pullen is a controversial figure, having confirmed publicly earlier in 2010 that the committee was having financial problems.
In the secretary’s race, Illinois Committeewoman Demetra DeMonte will compete with Indiana Committeewoman Dee Dee Benkie.
Kyle Trygstad contributed to this report.