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Posted at 8:23 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Four things to watch at the Republican National Committee Chair election

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will gather today in Maryland to pick their chairman for the next two years.

The drama is not whether current chair Michael Steele can win a second term -- he can't -- but who will step into the leadership void for a party beginning the herculean task of defeating President Obama in 2012.

Four things to watch at today's chair vote, which we will be live-blogging in this space starting around noon, are below.

1. The second ballot: The first ballot will function as a sort of valedictory for Steele, a thank you for the work he has done over the past two years. Once that's over with, the fight for the voters committed to Steele for only a single ballot will begin in earnest. And, that makes the second ballot crucial for the remaining candidates, but especially Wisconsin Party Chairman Reince Priebus, who is considered the frontrunner going into today's votes.

2. WDMSD (What Does Michael Steele Do)? Under RNC bylaws, Steele (or any candidate) can stay on the ballot for as long as he/she chooses. While most candidates drop off once it's clear they can't win, there's absolutely no telling what Steele will do. Does he drop after the first ballot? Second? Ever? And, if he does drop out, does he throw his support -- yes, he does have a group of committeemen and women who will follow his lead -- to one of the other candidates? Who? And how much does it help (or hurt)?

3. The XX Factor: Two women -- former ambassador Ann Wagner and longtime RNC official Maria Cino -- are both running for the chairman's post. Conventional wisdom suggests that only one can emerge as the "female" candidate, but one smart GOP observer notes that more than one-third of the 168 RNC voters are women -- meaning that Wagner and Cino could theoretically survive (and even thrive) through multiple ballots. The other gender issue to keep an eye on: RNC rules mandate that the chair and vice-chair be of opposite sexes. That means that if either Cino or Wagner win, the two frontrunners for the co-chair slot -- Wyoming's Jan Larimer and Florida's Sharon Day -- would be disqualified. Louisiana's Roger Villere Jr. has said he would run (and he would win) under that scenario.

4. Multiple ballots, multiple strategies: In 2009, it took Steele six ballots to secure the simple majority of votes (85) needed to win. We could be headed toward a similar scenario this time around -- particularly if Priebus can't close it out on the second or third ballot, ala Haley Barbour in 1993. With more than a third of the members officially undecided going into today's vote, the situation could be ripe for a momentum candidate to slowly but surely build support over multiple ballots before surging to a victory after a protracted fight. Or so political junkies can hope...

Haridopolos first to run against Bill Nelson: Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos became the first major candidate to enter the state's 2012 Senate race again Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Haridopolos, who has made little secret of his intention to run for the GOP nomination to face Nelson, launched a new campaign website at and has a campaign committee called "Friends of Mike H."

Other Republicans considering the race include former Sen. George LeMieux, Rep. Connie Mack and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.


Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who has expressed some interest in running for governor, said he may do just that if his district becomes more Republican during redistricting. The GOP controls the drawing of the map in Indiana.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) will speak at the famed Gridiron Dinner with Washington journalists.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign for his former aide, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (D), in the Chicago mayor's race next week.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) says his decision on whether to run for Senate will be independent of whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) runs for reelection.

Boston businessman Bob Pozen said he would consider running against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) if Massachusetts Democrats asked him to.


"For Democrats, a Texas-Sized Challenge" -- Nate Silver, New York Times

"Would-be successors kick into high gear after Sen. Hutchison's announcement" -- Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News

"Pawlenty in Washington, D.C.: Here I am" -- Bill Salisbury, St. Paul Pioneer Press

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 14, 2011; 8:23 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: The 10 best races of 2011

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