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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/24/2010

Gentry Collins inches closer to RNC chairmanship bid

By Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

1. Former Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins announced Tuesday night that he is weighing a bid for the committee's chairmanship, one week after announcing his departure from the RNC in a scathing letter directed at current chairman Michael Steele.

Collins confirmed Tuesday night that he has taken the first steps toward exploring a run.

"I have been encouraged by many friends, both on the committee and from outside the committee, to take this step as the RNC prepares to elect a Chairman in January," Collins wrote in a statement. "This week, I will continue to visit with members around the country and will enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family."

ABC News's Jonathan Karl reported earlier Tuesday that Collins had filed papers to form a 527 committee called "Collins for Chairman." Former Iowa Republican Party chairman Brian Kennedy, who filed the papers for Collins (himself a former executive director of the Iowa GOP), called Collins a "proven party leader who has gotten results."

Collins's move comes as other potential contenders have begun lining up support among the 168 members of the RNC.

The only current declared candidate, former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis, announced Tuesday that he now has 10 votes from committee members, including some who had backed Steele over Anuzis in 2009.

Another potential challenger, Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, won high praise from former House speaker Newt Gingrich earlier this week and is rolling up support from some of the committee's big guns, including Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady.

Former Luxembourg ambassador Ann Wagner and former RNC official Maria Cino have also taken steps toward entering the race.

Others eyeing a run include former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring and Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy. Republican Governors Association executive director Nick Ayers has been mentioned as a possible contender but has not expressed interest in the job.

For his part, Steele has not yet announced whether he intends to seek reelection, but estimates late last week from strategists close to the committee indicated that his supporters currently number about 50. As the potential challengers edge closer to announcing bids, expect pressure to mount on committee members to begin taking sides.

2. Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) conceded his reelection race Tuesday, giving Republicans their second pickup in as many days and expanding the GOP's net gain on Election Day to 63 seats.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press declared that Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) had won reelection.

Maffei trailed Republican Ann Marie Buerkle by more than 500 votes after all absentee ballots had been counted, and on Tuesday afternoon he congratulated Buerkle on her victory.

"I make no apologies, except to my friends, supporters, and staff for the fact the final outcome was not what we wanted," Maffei said. "I congratulate Congresswoman-elect Buerkle and her supporters and family. I wish her luck in the new Republican majority."

Costa, who had already declared victory, led Republican Andy Vidak by more than 3,000 votes when the AP called the race Tuesday.

Just two House races remain unresolved. Republicans appear likely to come up short against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), and things aren't looking so good against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) either.

Bishop has overtaken Republican Randy Altschuler and leads by 235 votes with the ballot-counting complete, according to Bishop's campaign.

Altschuler has also been challenging more absentee ballots, meaning Bishop's lead figures to grow when those ballots are added to the mix.

3. Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) says he may cross over to vote for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for speaker, becoming the first House Democrat to publicly toy with voting against outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the post.

Owens backed Pelosi over Blue Dog Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) for the post of minority leader, but he told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that he may vote for the GOP candidate for speaker.

Owens reportedly said it was "quite possible" that he would support Boehner.

"When I was asked to support her [Pelosi], I said I will if she agrees to govern from the center and makes jobs her priority," Owens said. "She assured me that she would, and I made it equally clear that if she didn't, I would not support her going forward.

"Clearly, she made it very clear that she was a progressive and pushing a progressive agenda, which is one of the reasons why, on a number of issues, I stepped away from the Democratic leadership."

Democrats were divided over whether they wanted Pelosi to remain as their party's leader. Owens's statement that he might support Boehner may lead other Democrats to explore the possibility as well -- something that Democratic leaders would like to quash immediately.

4. Former President George H.W. Bush has offered a quasi-endorsement for Mitt Romney's still undeclared 2012 presidential campaign.

Bush said on CNN said he would prefer to support his son, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, but that Jeb isn't interested. The elder Bush said that, assuming his son doesn't change his mind, the former Massachusetts governor would be a good choice.

"We like Mitt Romney. We know him well and like him very much," Bush said on "Larry King Live."

Bush said he didn't like the "moderate" label, but that he sees Romney as "a reasonable guy, conservative fellow, which is good. ... I think he'd be a good president, a very good president."

Meanwhile, Bush's wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, gave Sarah Palin what amounts to anything but a statement of support.

She said the former Alaska governor looks "very happy" in her home state.

"I hope she'll stay there," Barbara Bush said.

5. Minnesota's State Canvassing Board called Tuesday for a hand recount in the race to succeed retiring Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R). The move was widely expected, given former senator Mark Dayton's (D) narrow lead over state Sen. Tom Emmer (R).

The recount, which was triggered automatically since Dayton's 8,770-vote margin was within the half-percentage-point threshold, is slated to begin Monday and finish by the middle of December.

The winner of the race could be sworn in by early January; if either side contests the results, however, the swearing-in would likely be delayed.

Both camps also sparred Tuesday over how the State Canvassing Board will deal with ballot challenges during the recount, particularly on the issue of so-called "frivolous" challenges. (Of the more than 6,600 ballots challenged during the 2008 Senate race recount, more than 5,000 were deemed to have been frivolous challenges.)

The board will segregate potentially frivolous challenges this time around and will review them later next month.

By Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake  | November 24, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: The biggest vulnerability for each GOP presidential hopeful

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