Priebus draws more early support than Steele in RNC chair race
He may have the edge in surprise after he shocked many with his decision to run for a second term, but RNC chairman Michael Steele may already be on shaky ground for retaining his current job. Former Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is mounting a serious bid to unseat Steele and currently holds the edge headed into the Jan. 14 meeting where the next chairman will be chosen.
According to a whip count from The Hotline, 13 RNC delegates have publicly declared their support for Priebus, whereas Steele has 12 official backers. That one vote separation may be an essential tie, but it bodes poorly for Steele’s reelection hopes. Eighteen delegates have committed to supporting another candidate: nine have said they will vote for former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, seven for former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, and two for former RNC political director Gentry Collins.
The party chairman is not chosen in a first-past-the-post vote, the way general U.S. elections operate. Instead, RNC members take a series of votes, eliminating candidates in each round until one person receives a majority of the votes. With 185 members, that means a candidate must secure 85 supporters to win the post.
The challenge for Steele is that many of those backing the other candidates such as Collins or Wagner have already decided to buck the current party chairman, so they will be more likely to support another candidate if their first choice is knocked out of the running.
There is already an “anybody but Steele” sentiment circulating in certain circles of the Republican Party. Major Republican donors threatened to abandon fundraising for the party, according to Politico. In a separate article, Politico reported that Mike Duncan, Steele’s predecessor at the helm of the RNC, has reached out to candidates to suggest that the challengers form “a united front” to oppose Steele’s reelection.
Priebus’s list of public supporters indicates that he will be the most likely candidate to end up on the final ballot alongside Steele. He has wrapped up support from the Wisconsin RNC delegation, and has received backing from across the country. Most importantly, Henry Barbour has publicly stated he intends to vote for Priebus. Henry is the nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman whose voice continues to carry significant weight among the party’s elite, especially in fundraising matters, which at the end of the day is the primary function of a party chair.