Steel(e) Yourself: It's Election Day For Republican National Chairman
Today's the big day in the long-awaited and much-discussed contest for chairman of the Republican National Committee. It's the biggest election in national politics since last November's presidential vote (okay, it's also the only one).
The balloting starts at 10:30 this morning and you can find regular updates on this blog.
For weeks, six men have been aggressively pursuing the party job, which pays about $200,000 a year and is good for the next two years. Along with gaining the opportunity to oversee a national political organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the winner will instantly becomes a leading Republican spokesman at party events, on television and elsewhere else that prominent heads talk.
Contenders include the incumbent, Mike Duncan of Kentucky; former Maryland Lt. Gov. (and former state party chairman) Michael Steele; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and three current or former RNC members, Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson. The sixth candidate, former Tennessee Chairman Chip Saltsman, withdrew on the eve of the balloting.
The candidates made their final pitches (behind closed doors) to the electorate in the ballroom of the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington last night, followed by several hours of "hospitality" in various suites at the same venue.
Now it's in the hands of the voters, all 168 of them.
Here's how it works: Only members of the Republican National Committee -- three from each state, U.S. territory or the District of Columbia--may vote. It takes a majority of those voting to win.
There is no limit to the number of ballots and no requirement that the low man drop out after each round (as is sometimes done in these events). Unless someone gains a majority on the first round, which is considered unlikely, votes will start to shift from one candidate to another after the first or second round.
Duncan is regarded as the most likely candidate to come out on top in the first round, though probably without a majority. Hand-picked as chairman by then-President George Bush and Karl Rove, the White House political adviser, Duncan has to overcome anti-Bush sentiment on the committee and the feeling of some that the party needs a new face after losing the last two national elections.
If he doesn't win on the first and gain on the second, Duncan is probably done.
Steele and Blackwell, both African-Americans, would be breakthrough choices and the election of either man would send a loud message that the party of Lincoln is changing in the Age of Obama. Steele is regarded as suspiciously moderate by many conservatives, while Blackwell, who is perhaps the most conservative candidate in the field, is also the only one who never served on the RNC.
That matters a lot, since party chairmanship contests, when there's no president in the White House to dictate a choice, more closely resemble student council elections in high school than anything else. In other words, personal connections and concerns (who will get me a prime hotel room at the 2012 Republican National Convention) usually matter more than strategic considerations (who would be the best spokesman for the party).
For such reasons, some Republican veterans think Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman or Dawson, his South Carolina counterpart, may have the best chance if Duncan, the current national chairman, doesn't make it.
Many Republicans are worried about their party being viewed as a regional (read: southern), rather than a national, one. That could open the door for Anuzis, a likeable, if somewhat nerdy, political operator to wind up in the chairman's chair when the music finally stops.
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