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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 12/14/2010

The unpredictable Michael Steele

By Chris Cillizza

1. Michael Steele's announcement Monday that he will seek a second term as chairman of the Republican National Committee stunned the political world and left strategists scrambling to assess the impact he could have on the contest.

Steele, in a detailed statement released Monday night announcing his intentions, sought to claim credit for Republican gains at the ballot box in November and insisted his job was only half done.

"The stakes are higher, the work becomes harder and our commitment to complete the job -- to ensure that Obama is a one term President -- becomes more important," wrote Steele.

Put simply: In deciding to seek a second term, Steele issued a direct challenge to the growing number of candidates in the race and the GOP establishment. That message? If you want me gone, you are going to have to beat me.

While Steele's stridency to prove his naysayers wrong is without question, his ability to win the race is far less clear.

Sources knowledgeable about the alliances of the 168 members of the RNC estimate the chairman's support at roughly 40 votes (at most) -- about as many as he would need to claim a second term.

How Steele plans to build beyond that base -- and whether he can -- remains to be seen. But it's hard to envision his reelection campaign succeeding, particularly given the forces lined up against him and with other candidates.

The current favorite, in fact, seems to be Wisconsin Republican party chairman Reince Priebus, who managed Steele's 2009 RNC campaign. Priebus has been gathering support from committee members formerly loyal to Steele.

But, declaring a favorite in a race decided by only 168 people is extremely difficult. The jury is still out on how Steele's candidacy, which was kept extremely quiet and surprised even some of his allies, will impact the field. Much depends on the approach Steele takes in the weeks between now and the voting, in early January.

What do the next few weeks hold for Steele? Does he break his media silence and go on offense to try and sell his accomplishments through the press? Or does he play an inside game -- as he did in the months leading up to the election -- wooing rarely-courted members of the 168? Or does he view the bid as a pro forma exercise, simply staying in the race to prove that he wouldn't be intimidated out of it but doing little ultimately to broaden his appeal on the committee?

It's very difficult to imagine Steele winning a second term at the RNC but far easier to see him influencing the final outcome.

2. The National Republican Congressional Committee will keep much of its top staff from 2010 as the GOP looks to defend its new majority in 2012.

According to an NRCC source, executive director Guy Harrison will stay on in his current role, keeping intact the party's two-man leadership team of Harrison and his longtime boss, Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas). Prior to the two men joining the NRCC, Harrison served as Sessions' chief of staff.

Meanwhile, three other key NRCC staffers will move to new roles. Mike Shields, who ran the NRCC's independent expenditure unit, will become political director; deputy communications director Paul Lindsay will ascend to communications director; and deputy finance director Jenny Drucker will step up to become finance director.

Shields is a former chief of staff to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Lindsay is a veteran of the Republican National Committee and Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign, and Drucker was PAC director at the committee during the 2006 cycle.

Current political director Brian Walsh and communications director Ken Spain are both leaving the committee for other opportunities. Finance director Elizabeth Wells Verrill will return to her consulting firm.

Sessions and his team begin a second cycle at the NRCC after winning 63 seats in 2010. Republicans will hold their biggest House majority since the 1940s, so there will be plenty of seats to defend.

The GOP's Senate committee will also keep its chairman and much of its top staff, The Fix reported last month.

3. Attorney Joe Miller (R) is appealing a judge's ruling against him in the Alaska Senate race, a move that prolongs the race despite the ever-narrowing chances of a Miller win.

Miller's camp filed the appeal Monday following a judge's ruling last Friday that Miller had not proven there was widespread voter fraud in the race.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) leads Miller by more than 10,000 votes and would still lead by more than 2,000 even if Miller is successful in getting several thousand challenged ballots excluded from the final count. Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate following an Aug. 24 primary loss to Miller.

"We have consistently asserted that the law should be followed strictly," Miller said in a statement. "The fact that the legislature stated that there should be 'no exceptions' to the ballot counting method is what, in our view, should govern this matter. Under the current ruling, there are now over 8,000 exceptions, a result everyone who favors the rule of law should question."

Oral arguments in the case are set to begin on Friday. Murkowski's camp has contended that by pushing forward with the challenge, Miller is endangering Murkowski's Senate seniority.

4. A new Clarus Research Group poll shows Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb in a statistical dead heat in a potential rematch with former Sen. George Allen (R).

The survey shows Webb taking 41 percent to Allen's 40 percent in a 2012 general-election match-up.

In a race against state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), Webb would take 44 percent to Cuccinelli's 33 percent.

Webb has yet to indicate whether he'll run for re-election in 2012. Allen, however, is more of a sure thing; as we wrote in last week's Friday Line, it's a matter of when, not if, Allen gets into the race. Either way, the Virginia seat is certain to be a tough hold for Democrats especially in light of the GOP's gains in the Commonwealth this cycle.

5. Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence is making a trip to the early primary state of South Carolina this week, an indication that he's seriously weighing a bid for president in 2012.

Pence is slated to headline a fundraiser with another GOP rising star, Gov.-elect Nikki Haley (R), according to a Politico report. Seats at the Wednesday night event are going for $5,000 per person, with tickets for a post-fundraiser reception going for $1,000 per couple.

Pence last visited the state in May to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Joe Wilson (R).

Pence is also among the speakers slated to address next year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a traditional must-attend event for potential presidential hopefuls.

He is rumored to be deciding between a run for president and a bid for the open governor's seat in 2012; the smart money is on a national bid for Pence.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | December 14, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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