Indecision Roils RNC Race
UPDATED, 12:22 p.m. ET: Florida Republican Party Chairman Frank Greer will endorse former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele's bid for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee this afternoon.
Greer was mulling a candidacy of his own but has decided to stay out of the race and lend his support to Steele who is considered one of the frontrunners for the post.
Nearly two months after Republicans were dealt their second straight beatdown at the ballot box, the race to become the next public face of the Grand Old Party has grown increasingly fractious and unpredictable -- stoking fears among insiders that the first major movement of 2009 will be a misstep.
Take this week for example. On Monday Americans for Tax Reform -- Grover Norquist's group -- held a debate between the six candidates that left even advocates of the candidates rolling their eyes as each man sought to one up their rivals as to who owned more guns and who loved former President Ronald Reagan more.
On Tuesday a conservative steering committee -- led by anti-abortion advocate Jim Bopp Jr. -- convened a teleconference aimed at reasserting the need for the next RNC Chair to adhere to the party's conservative principles. And, today the RNC will hold a "special meeting" in Washington in which each of the candidates will have the opportunity to make his case.
The series of meetings comes on the heels of a controversy over the holidays surrounding Chip Saltsman, a RNC candidate and former chairman of the Tennessee Republican party, and his decision to send out a CD to supporters containing a song called "Barack the Magic Negro".
The overall message? Chaos.
"The party is teetering on the edge of complete anarchy," said one senior Republican strategist. The source added that the race to date has "divided a party that desperately needs to add not subtract."
Such is the level of indecision surrounding the pick that even now -- with just three weeks before the 168-member RNC gathers in Washington to pick a new leader there are several unannounced candidates whose names are being floated as potential alternative picks.
Florida Republican party Chairman Jim Greer, for example, after seemingly taking a pass on the race late last year, has re-inserted himself in the mix -- insisting that he may run after all. Greer is expected to make an announcement today, and appeared to be leaning toward the race. It's not clear whether he will be able to gain any traction.
Others are pushing a candidacy by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) although the incumbent, who currently trails entertainer Al Franken by 225 votes, appears much more interested in pursuing an election contest than running for RNC Chair.
Below is our latest handicapping of the contest with the candidates ranked from most to least likely to claim the chairmanship on Jan. 28. But, given the uncertainty in the field and the fact that this is a decision made by just 168 people and is almost certain to be decided after a series of secret ballots, caution is the operative word.
1. Mike Duncan: Duncan, the current RNC chair, is regarded as the frontrunner in the contest for one simple reason: he is seen by the members of the committee as one of them. For the past eight years, the RNC membership has had their chairman foisted upon them by President George W. Bush. Now that they get a pick of their own, they want it to be someone they know, like and trust. Duncan's problem? If he doesn't get the 85 votes he needs (or close to it) on the first ballot, he could struggle to maintain momentum.
2. Michael Steele: If Duncan is the consensus frontrunner, Steele is widely regarded as his most serious challenger. Steele is running as the insider's candidate (he is being counseled by several former RNC senior officials including Curt Anderson and Blaise Hazelwood) but with an outsider message: new faces are needed to shake up a stolid party. Steele performed the best of the candidates at Monday's debate (it was a low bar) and is clearly the best communicator in the group. But, he must find a way to convince RNC members that he is sufficiently conservative in order to build on whatever support he takes on the first ballot.
3. Saul Anuzis: The hard-charging chairman of the Michigan Republican Party has cemented his spot behind Duncan and Steele thanks to significant legwork (The Fix follows Anuzis on Twitter and the guy is ALWAYS on the road) and a slot as the only
Midwesterner (Fix slip: Blackwell is from Ohio) in the race. At issue for Anuzis is where he fits in the final reckoning of RNC voters. If they want one of their own then Duncan is more "of" the committee than Anuzis; if they want a figure of national stature then Steele is far better known.
4. Ken Blackwell: Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State, got into the race late but he and his team have moved to rapidly make up ground with an aggressive press effort. Blackwell is, today, the candidate with the most public commitments from RNC members, but insiders -- both those aligned with other candidates and those not -- believe the Ohioan has a ceiling of 25 or so votes. Blackwell is seeking to stake out ground as the most conservative candidate in the field but may have misstepped in rolling out a series of endorsements from national conservative groups that may not sit well with a committee membership that is tired of being dictated to.
5. Katon Dawson: Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, got into the race believing that he could be the candidate to unify the southern bloc and, in doing so, claim the chairmanship. It was sound logic at the time but there now that there are several southerners (Duncan, Saltsman) in the field and there seems to be reluctance to choose a southerner as the face of the party, Dawson's logic makes less sense.
6. Chip Saltsman: There's little question that Saltsman was building momentum before the "Magic Negro" thing happened. We don't buy the logic that the controversy helped Saltsman in some Machiavellian way and have heard that his support has gone south in the wake of the incident. While the "Magic Negro" song may have sunk Saltsman's candidacy, the Fix knows Chip personally and can testify that he is the furthest thing from racist.
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