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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Michael Steele and the RNC waiting game

By Chris Cillizza

1. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele continues to avoid making any public statement about whether or not he will seek a second term, a silence that has left his potential opponents -- and even many of his allies -- guessing about what his political future will be.

Few people in Republican political circles have spoken with Steele in recent weeks as, according to informed sources, he has taken time off to travel with his family and mull his next steps.

He has avoided gatherings of Republicans of late, too -- taking a pass on attending the Republican Governors Association winter meeting in San Diego last month and skipping today's planned RNC chair debate in Washington. (Steele is not alone in avoiding the debate; two other potential RNC candidates -- Reince Priebus and Maria Cino -- also won't attend.)

That lack of contact makes it difficult to gauge when Steele might reach a final decision on whether or not to run for a second term. But, with the release of the committee's final fundraising report on Thursday and a planned RNC budget committee meeting next Monday and Tuesday, most seasoned observers expect no decision before the middle of next week.

(Whether Steele can win is an entirely different matter. A recent survey of RNC members by the Associated Press showed significant discontent toward Steele.)

With Steele playing the waiting game, several other candidates are growing increasingly antsy about running. Leading that list is Priebus who managed Steele's 2009 campaign for chairman but has made clear in recent days that he is actively considering a run himself.

Sources close to Priebus acknowledge that he would prefer not to run against Steele but that he almost certainly needs to get in or out of the race by the end of this week -- regardless of what the chairman does (or, more appropriately, doesn't do).

The only two people currently in the running are former Michigan Republican party chairman Saul Anuzis and former Ambassador Ann Wagner. Former RNC political director Gentry Collins and Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy continue to weigh the race.

2. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has been tapped to succeed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as head of the Democratic Governors Association, according to a source familiar with the move.

O'Malley's promotion is expected to be formally announced today as the DGA holds an event in Washington to introduce its newly-elected Democratic governors and new leadership team.

O'Malley, who is currently serving as vice chairman of the DGA, bested former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) last month to win election to a second term. O'Malley's resounding win -- he beat Ehrlich by more than 14 points -- coupled with his fundraising prowess make him poised to be a formidable chairman of the committee.

O'Malley's GOP counterpart will be Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was tapped last month to head the Republican Governors Association.

Three states -- Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky-- will hold gubernatorial races in 2011, with another possibly slated to take place in West Virginia pending a decision by the state legislature.

3. The Senate on Tuesday voted against a tea party-backed proposal to ban earmarks, with several notable senators crossing party lines ahead of key 2012 reelection bids.

Two vulnerable Democrats -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- crossed over to vote with Republicans for the measure.

Both Nelson and McCaskill represent states where Republicans won open seat Senate races in 2010 and are expected to be major targets for the GOP in 2012. McCaskill was an original sponsor of the amendment but the vote appears to mark a shift for Nelson, who as recently as two weeks ago espoused the benefits of earmarks.

Nelson could face a number of Republicans, including outgoing Sen. George LeMieux, Rep. Connie Mack IV and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

McCaskill could face a contest against former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) or former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) previously balked at the idea of an earmark ban, pointing out that the Constitution invests in Congress the power to spend taxpayer money. McCaskill, meanwhile, was one of the amendment's early supporters.

Lugar is thought to be a tea party target for votes like the one he cast on the earmark ban. Though mostly conservative, the senator has been unafraid of irritating the conservative base on some issues that are important to it.

4. Former Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton's nearly 9,000-vote lead continues to hold strong with about 60 percent of the recount in the Minnesota governor's race complete.

Vote totals from Tuesday showed Dayton has actually gained during the recount, upping his lead by more than 200 votes and taking a 8,975-vote lead, according to numbers from Dayton's campaign.

State Rep. Tom Emmer's (R) campaign continues to challenge many more ballots than Dayton, by a margin of 512 to 112 as of early Tuesday afternoon.

More than 1,200 challenges have been thrown out immediately because they were considered frivolous, and all but 33 were challenged by Emmer's campaign.

The hill remains very steep for Emmer, who was just inside of the threshold that triggers an automatic recount. Even if all of his challenges are successful, which is unlikely, if history is any guide, he would still trail by several thousand votes.

Dayton, meanwhile, has raised $1 million already for the recount, according to his campaign.

5. A  new survey by Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows a crowded four-way race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The poll shows former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) taking the top spot with 21 percent among registered voters, followed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R) at 19 percent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) with 18 percent and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) with 16 percent.

In general-election match-ups with President Obama, Romney and Huckabee would be in a statistical tie; Obama would take 47 percent to Romney's 46 percent, and 48 percent to Huckabee's 45 percent.

Meanwhile, Obama would best Palin 51 percent to 42 percent and would beat Gingrich 49 percent to 43 percent.

The survey also shows Obama's approval rating at only 47 percent, while 50 percent disapprove. But his potential Republican contenders are also struggling: none of the top four Republicans breaks a 40 percent favorability rating, with Palin and Gingrich topping the unfavorability ratings with 55 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | December 1, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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