RNC Chair Front-Runner

Who’s the Front-Runner for RNC Chair?

December 15th, 2010 at 5:35 am Tim Mak

Who will win the race for RNC Chairman? After all, that is the $400 million dollar question – the amount that  chair candidate and former RNC political director Gentry Collins has estimated the RNC will need to raise in the 2012 cycle.

Let me handicap the race a little:

Conventional wisdom has it that former Steele general counsel and Wisconsin state chair Reince Priebus and former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner are the front-runners, and by my estimation, the conventional wisdom is right.

As a former ally to incumbent chair Michael Steele, Reince Priebus can count on the votes of those who once supported Steele but have since become disaffected. Yes, Priebus will have to deal with the notion that he turned his back on Steele – but he’s got a certain wonky affability about him, and his personal friendships with key RNC members are good. He’s also got momentum on his side:

Ann Wagner will count on her time on the RNC – she was the co-chair from 1999-2005 – and the personal relationships she developed then. She met TN National Committeeman John Ryder during this time, and he’s gone on to become an important first supporter.

She estimates that 25-30% of the current RNC were members during her tenure, which is a crucial head start in a race that basically mimics a high school student council election: so much of it has to do with whether the members like you enough.

But this is of course not to discount some other candidates in the race: Michigan National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, former RNC deputy chairwoman Maria Cino, and former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins.

Maria Cino is perhaps the candidate with the best argument for being a ‘nuts and bolts’ chairman. With an extensive resume that includes work at the RNC and the NRCC, as well as having organized the 2008 Republican National Convention. Her fundraiser last week with Dick Cheney and Ed Gillespie was meant to show she had the fundraising chops to lead the RNC.

Veteran political operative Gentry Collins, on the other hand, knows the electoral battle field probably better than any of the other candidates, and enjoys a lot of support amongst Republican political operatives, among whom he is well-liked. If Collins doesn’t win the RNC chairmanship, he may well join a presidential campaign looking for a key Iowa operative.

As for Saul Anuzis, he’s currently leading the pack in terms of endorsements, and will make a strong showing on the first ballots. He’s shown he’s a decent guy – the only Steele opponent in 2009 who offered to work on his transition team for the sake of the party. Who is to say he can’t emerge as a consensus candidate if Steele drops out and endorses him?

And finally, we come to incumbent chairman Michael Steele, who looks unlikely to win reelection after a controversial tenure, but he retains a substantial amount of support on the Republican National Committee. This is contrary to popular perception, as evidenced by a piece written Tuesday morning by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin:

Steele is a non-factor in the race. His own former general counsel is running to replace him. I’ve yet to find a single elected official, pundit, or committee member who supports him or is even willing to defend his tenure — which was distinguished by gaffes, scandals and debt.

Rubin gets this half right – Steele’s tenure has indeed been marred by serious missteps. But he’s kept promises to some of his key supporters, and they’re loyal to him. Despite his mistakes, he knows how to work a room, and he’s actually pretty funny in person. And these are the attributes that actually matter most in a race like this.

As opposed to what Rubin says, after Steele’s announcement Monday evening, I received a half dozen emails from RNC members expressing their support for Steele. This is not even counting Steele’s strongest supporters: Norm Semanko of Idaho; Holly Hughes of Michigan; Shawn Steel of California; and Pat Rogers of New Mexico. And this doesn’t even include his support from the island territories: Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands – all of which have three votes (Hotline on Call has reported Puerto Rico’s delegates will not support Steele).

I wouldn’t bet on Steele to win, but don’t count out his influence in the student council elections that are the RNC Chair race.

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