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Maria Cino takes steps toward run at RNC chairmanship

By Aaron Blake

Former Republican National Committee official Maria Cino is dipping her toe in the water for a run at the RNC chairmanship, forming a working group to explore a bid and registering a campaign website.

The website,, is so far only a starter page with the headline: "Maria Cino for Chairman of the RNC."

But a source close to Cino confirmed that she is beginning to make the rounds of the 168 RNC committee members and evaluating whether she would be a viable candidate.

"She has strong relationships with many members, and a lot of this is about their considerations," said the source, who is a member of the small working group that has been exploring a potential Cino candidacy. "She's trying to be thoughtful."

Cino is a former deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation who was briefly acting secretary in 2006. She is a veteran of the last three presidential campaigns, including as President Bush's political director in his 2000 campaign. She is also a former RNC deputy chairwoman and was the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 1994 election.

More recently, Cino was the CEO of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Cino's interest adds even more intrigue to the race, given her ties to House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio). She is a good friend of Boehner and his chief of staff, Barry Jackson, and Boehner recently praised Cino at a Republican fundraiser in Washington, but Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker-to-be isn't offering an endorsement.

"It's the 168 members of the RNC who must decide who leads the committee for the next two years," Steel said. "This will be their decision."

Should Cino run, she is eyeing a grassroots bid in which she builds on the rapport she's cultivated with many members of Congress and the RNC over the last two decades. She would also pitch her ability to get the committee out of its deep debt by virtue of her ties to big donors.

She could also be formidable as a female candidate in a field of men. The only other woman considered a top contender is former Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner, who is also a former RNC co-chairwoman.

Working against Cino would be her ties to Bush adviser Karl Rove, who is not beloved among RNC committee members. The committee has also been resistant to installing party operatives to its top post. Recent operatives that have ascended to the post (Ken Mehlman, Ed Gillespie) were the pick of the sitting Republican president rather than the choice of committee members.

Cino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cino would join what is looking like a wide field that already includes former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis. Embattled current RNC Chairman Michael Steele is expected to seek another term, and others mentioned include former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring, Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, Republican Governors Association Executive Director Nick Ayers and former RNC political director Gentry Collins.

Former North Dakota GOP Chairman Gary Emineth said Wednesday that he will not run.

Collins this week resigned his post at the RNC, issuing a scathing letter detailing Steele's alleged missteps and the committee's dire financial straits.

Ayers, who is just 28 years old, received praise Wednesday at the RGA meeting in San Diego from incoming RGA Chairman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who touted Ayers as a potential RNC candidate.

Priebus continues to be mum about his run.

By Aaron Blake  | November 18, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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