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RNC Chair Race: The Fix's Final Handicapping

The 168-member Republican National Committee will gather tomorrow morning to choose its next chairman and yet even those closest to this most insider of votes acknowledge they have little idea who will emerge victorious.

The RNC race has been almost entirely overshadowed by the election, transition and inauguration of President Barack Obama and, at times, has looked more like a race for high school student council than for the chairmanship of a political party.

The entire process -- dominated as it has been by anonymous nasty-grams sent via email -- has left many neutral Republican strategists shaking their heads at the pettiness of the contest (at a time when Obama is focused on "big" ideas) and what they believe to be the lack of star power in the field.

Critics aside, someone has to win tomorrow and below you'll find our handicapping of the field.

At the philosophical level, there are two dynamics playing out in the race.

The first is a choice between change and more of the same. Mike Duncan, the current RNC Chairman who is seeking another term, is, without question, the more of the same candidate -- arguing that he did as good a job as possible at the helm of the party in 2008 and that a steady hand is needed to guide the GOP back to relevance in the coming years.

Any number of other candidates are grasping for the "change" mantle with former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele the most effective messenger due to his status as one of the few African American elected officials in the GOP and his strident criticism of the presidency of George W. Bush.

The other dynamic is between committee members and outsiders. For the last eight years, RNC members have seen their chairmen foisted upon them by Bush with little input or say over how the committee runs.

Now that the party is out of power, there is a strong sentiment among many RNC members to pick "one of their own" to run the committee, thereby ensuring that they retain a measure of control over its decisions between now and 2012.

Duncan, as the current chair, is the strongest committee candidate, although South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson and Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis also can make the case that they understand and represent the interests of the members of the committee.

These crosscurrents -- not to mention the near-certainty that it will take multiple ballots (Three? Four? More?) for a candidate to break the 85-vote threshold necessary to win -- make hard and fast predictions extremely difficult.

Our informed sense, derived from conversations with a variety of operatives both aligned with a particular candidate and neutral, of where each man stands (with their likely number of votes on the first ballot) is below. Agree or disagree? The comments section is open.

1. Mike Duncan (48-60 votes on first ballot): Outwardly, the Duncan forces portray supreme confidence -- arguing that he has been slowly building support since the November election among committee members. And, there is almost no debate that Duncan will lead on the first ballot. But, does he get a vote total in the high 40s or the low 60s? That makes a HUGE difference. Under the first scenario, he may well be done. Under the second, he would continue to be the favorite on the second ballot. Sources following the race closely say that the Duncan campaign has gotten very jittery over the last 72 hours -- not a good sign.

2. Michael Steele (40 votes): The Steele campaign is doing everything it can to portray the race as a narrowing to their candidate and Duncan in the final days. They said last night that they now have 39 supporters -- although only 18 of them are public -- and Jim Dyke, who is advising Steele, said "whether it's on the second or the sixth ballot the Lieutenant Governor is in the strongest position to take on the current chairman." Steele is currently regarded as the strongest alternative to Duncan and probably must finish no lower than second on the first ballot (and subsequent ballots) to maintain momentum. But, do lingering questions surrounding his conservative credentials and the fact that he is not currently a committee member complicate his path to 85 votes?

3.Katon Dawson (30 votes): Dawson is, without question, the candidate with the momentum in the field. All sides acknowledge that Dawson -- once left for dead after revelations that he had been a member of a whites-only country club -- is moving up the ranks quickly thanks in large part to the consolidation of the south behind his candidacy. Dawson allies cast the country club incident as a strength for Dawson, evidence that he can take a hard punch and get up off of the mat. Dawson detractors insist that if the party elects him today, the country club association will dominate news headlines and put the GOP in a very uncomfortable position. Either way, Dawson is now a force to be reckoned with in the race.

4. Saul Anuzis (mid 20s): Anuzis may have peaked a bit too soon in the race as he appeared to be the "it" candidate during the early part of this month but seems to have lost some of that velocity of late. Anuzis is probably the most charismatic member of the race (with the possible exception of Steele) and his personal magnetism has made him a popular figure among committee members. Of late, however, doubts have crept into the minds of some RNC voters about whether Anuzis is more a political operative than a party leader. While most people we talked to saw Anuzis as a long shot to win, they also believe he is a potentially key power broker. Where Anuzis and his voters go to if he steps aside could well decide the winner.

5. Ken Blackwell (Teens): Blackwell was the last candidate into the race and, for a little while, appeared to clawing his way into the top tier. That movement has slowed considerably, however, as Blackwell has struggled to grow his support beyond the strongest social conservatives on the committee. Duncan's camp believes that if Blackwell drops out, much of his support will naturally move to the current chairman. If Blackwell's bloc moves en masse to Duncan, then the incumbent could well be positioned to win. If Blackwell's support fractures among the candidates, Duncan could be in a tough position.

6. Chip Saltsman (N/A): Saltsman, who managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign, was a hot candidate in late 2008 -- until he sent a CD to supporters that included the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro." His support dissolved almost immediately and never came back. As of this posting, it's not clear whether Saltsman will be able to qualify for the ballot tomorrow as it requires two RNC members from three different states willing to formally nominate him. Even if he does make the ballot, he is a non-factor.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 29, 2009; 3:34 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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Judd Legum, Former Research Director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, on his blog "Legum's New Line", wrote the following:

"Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele was just elected chairman of the RNC. Here are five facts about the new leader of the Republican party:

1. Steele compared stem cell research to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust.

2. Steele bused in homeless African Americans from Philadelphia to distribute literature in inner-city Baltimore that featured a “Sample Democratic Ballot” with votes for Steele and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, along with photos of prominent black Democrats.

3. Steele once described that “R” next to his name as a “scarlet letter,” complaining that being a Republican was hurting his electoral chances.

4. Steele was endorsed by Mike Tyson during his run for Senate. When Tyson, who used to be married to Steele’s half sister, pleaded no contest to assault in Montgomery County in 1998, Steele was on hand to support him.

5. Steele defended former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s decision to hold a $100,000 fundraiser at a country club that did not allow non-white members, saying that the club’s membership’s policies were “not an issue” because “I don’t play golf.”

I don't need to know anything else. Steele is just another far right religious nut and bigot who will do nothing to help the "R" party's decline into irrelevance.


Posted by: swanieaz | January 31, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

OH! MY! Rush and the LIPSTICK will not be very happy about this move. I thought they had everything under control. Just goes to show the GREEDY OLD PARTY is out of control.

Posted by: SWAMPYPD | January 30, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

As a non-Republican I don't really care much about who wins, but I also don't get why some think Michael Steele is as great as some say.

To be fair, he's no worse than the others, but he doesn't have a great record of achievement or getting others elected. As MD party chair, he didn't appreciably change the state's "blue" status, nor did he sway very many minorities to the GOP as he promised.

And "his status as one of the few African American elected officials in the GOP" is a thing of the past; arguably he has never been elected to anything at all, as the MD Lt. Gov. slot was part of a team ticket (Gov. Bob Ehrlich really won that 2002 race; actually I'd say that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost it,but that's beside the point.) When Steele stepped out on his own for a 2006 Senate bid, he lost and it wasn't even close.

And his "strident criticism" of Bush is a relatively new thing, as someone else here pointed out. Earlier he was in lockstep agreement with almost everything Bush did (as were most other Republicans.) In the 2006 MD Senate race, the Democrats had a lot of fun recycling clips of him praising Bush and supporting his issue positions.

Posted by: mkarns | January 30, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

What a bunch of losers!! And the repubs wonder why they are losing.
As a fiscal conservative I'm appalled by what the repubs have become. Time for a new center party in the Concord Coalition vein but not holding my breath.
For now Obama is better, fair to all, obeys the constitution and once out of the recession should be a balanced budget hawk.
Until the repubs throw out the religious right who no one likes but themselves, they are doomed, doomed, doomed. Keep up the good work!!

Posted by: freedomev | January 30, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget Joe the Plumber! He would be great! hes a good guy too. :) There was so much talk about him in the election, the Republicans really cared about the little guy...They put him up on their shoulders and cheered. Elect JOE THE PLUMBER...ELECT JOE THE PLUMBER!!



Posted by: StoptheSpin | January 30, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

As a Rhode Island Republican, I am interested in a National GOP Chair, that realizes all state and territorial party have different problems.
In Rhode Island, financially the state GOP is weak,. In addition to that we do have a Republican Governor but only four Republican State Senators out of 38, and ten State Representatives out of 75,. Being a Republican is arguably the most difficult place to be a Republican in America except perhaps Massachusetts.
It is my understanding the national Democratic party funds their state Democratic headquarters staffs and expenses? Can someone clarify that for me? This is NOT done on the GOP side. I believe some of the national GOP candidates for Chair are willing to help the state parties this way, or open to it? I understand Mike Duncan is not inclined to do this? Like information on this.

Posted by: RhodeIslandRepublican | January 30, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

TO: vbhoomes

Thanks for confirmation that my message is getting through to decision-makers in Washington and beyond.

Once Team Obama succeeds in taking down the Bush-Cheney "programs of personal destruction" and its extrajudicial punishment network of citizen vigilantes directed by federal agents who usurp local police powers and condone the use of silent, potentially lethal radiation weaponry, perhaps they can turn their attention toward enforcing anti-propaganda laws.

That make require you to seek other employment.

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 30, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

If I were to be purely partisan I would just sit back and enjoy watching the RNC go through this turmoil.

However, should the RNC find its historic roots, as oppossed to the last 8 years of radicalism posing as Republicanism, they will find the voters have a very short memory.

A loyal opposition is a very necessary thing in a democracy. It keeps the party that is in power a little more honest and gives the voter another way to look at issues.

Shake it off RNC and get back in the game because this country needs more than one point of view.

Posted by: Thatsnuts | January 30, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

I think scrivener50 is off his meds again. He's a poster child on how the mental health system in this country is failing us. Steele is the best choice. He's got personality and will give the GOP a needed boost in this area.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 30, 2009 6:18 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me of the lack of any depth on the GOP bench for President. Duncan? Terrible. Steele? creampuff and not hard right enough. Maybe they will select Steele anyway, and do a Palin Redux. You know, like Palin was to Hillary, no substance but a woman, Steele is an African American to be the voice against Obama, and that will be the right 'strategy' right Republicans?

Posted by: JPinCalifornia | January 30, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Well, the medical remedy for the Republican Party is contained in the Elizabeth Kubler Ross mantra that the AMA advocates to help prepare their patients for the inevitable: "You're old, your sick, and you're gonna die." Amen. Get used to it.

Posted by: commoner3 | January 30, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Michael Steele has done the hard work of formulating a vision and plan ever since he decided to run for chair. Some may have not felt that Steele was strong enough in his conservatism, but he NEVER left the cause. He's worked hard, put himself in difficult positions of defending the intent of the party and he has a serious plan. My vote is for Michael Steele.

Ignore the naysayers. I feel a revival coming on in this party and people are hot and making their representatives accountable. A new tone has been set and it needs someone to set an approach around it.

Posted by: pjean | January 29, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

Steele has based his campaign on getting the RNC up to speed with internet technology.

Steele's a good guy, I like him, but it's going to take a lot more than getting up to speed with mailing lists to get Republicans elected anywhere other than Sulphur, Louisiana. I'm afraid he's basically trading on his race, and he's not as skilled as the last politician I can think of who pulled that off.

Posted by: officermancuso | January 29, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't quite understand how you can be so confident in your information -- I'm in touch with plenty of these operatives and I don't have that good a sense of what can be relied on.

Posted by: JPFreire | January 29, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Michael Steele has proven himself as a conservative Republican and an effective lieutanant-governer of my state, Maryland. He has what it takes to renew the Republican Party. He represents values, ideals and policies the Party represents and can work with the opposite party. He is change we need and can believe in.

Posted by: irishorse | January 29, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse









Posted by: scrivener50 | January 29, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

How ironic that the RNC has been trying so desperately to find its own "magic negro."
Good luck boys.

Why haven't you run African Americans who aren't' ex-athletes in White Republican districts? Oh so you thought of 1. Aren't you proud of yourself now?

And stop patting yourself on the back for Michael Steele. You'd never run him in South Carolina.

And Alan Keyes? You imported him into Illinois like a slave to run against another Black Man. Why don't you import him into Alabama or Mississippi to run?

And Ken Blackwell? You owe him big time. He gave George Bush the election in 2004 even though you won't admit it. That's how ungrateful you are to that Black man.

Shame on you!

Posted by: rightway1 | January 29, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Who will be the next Grand Wizard of the Republican Party? Who cares.

Posted by: hamishdad | January 29, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

"two RNC members from three different states" - HUH? Is this some Republican math?

Do you mean three members from at least two different states - or at least two members each from three different states (so really six members, with three states represented with at least two members per state)?

Or does one of the two members need to be someone like Bush 41 or Romney who claim to be "from" different states when it best helps them?

Posted by: tjs_dc | January 29, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

$30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
$550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

Posted by: atsegga | January 29, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse


While I am for change, and was therefore one of a handful(?) of Republicans who was forced to vote (and personally campaign in a GOTV efforts in a battleground state -- INDIANA -- including making phone calls, donating money and knocking on doors) for POTUS Barack Obama, I FAIL to see the need to replace Mike Duncan as chairman.

He was NOT the reason I worked to elect Obama, and replacing him won't stop me from voting for Obama in 2012 -- perhaps.

What the party needs is to REFORM itself from being a party of racists and self serving sycophants to one that is as envisioned by my hero, Abraham Lincoln -- and that includes welcoming Blacks like myself into the party, including myself who is a registered and DISGUSTED member.

Until then, I will say what Bob Marley would have said in such a circumstance: PHEWEEE to the party!!

Posted by: KYJurisDoctor | January 29, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Elect the man with a stomach of STEELE. Who doesn't mind being the only "negro" in the house. Magic or not. Rush, take some more of your pills and sit down.

paging Palin, Palin...anyone seen Palin?

Posted by: StoptheSpin | January 29, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

"Whoever they pick, it won't matter. The GOP is DOA!"

Everything changes. Not too many years ago, they talked about a permanent majority & the Dems were running scared. The Dems would be foolish to act similarly now that the shoe's on the other foot.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 29, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I have to say a number of you libs are disturbed people. I'm glad Markos has taught you the art of reasoning

Posted by: TexasProud1 | January 29, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I know. The RNC chair should be fish-belly white;pudgy, have a private life that is a marked contrast to the public persona;be either a closeted gay or a prescription drug addict. But I don't know who to pick. So many in the GOP fits the requisites.

Posted by: sperrico | January 29, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I agree with BuleSkyPolitics, It is apparent that rush limberger is the leader of the Republican Party. Just admit it, elect him the leader and get it over with. The 10% of Americans who are still Republicans will be tickled pink. Or is that not an acceptable color to those guys?

Posted by: rtruran | January 29, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Who the heck cares? The GOP has already put Rush Limbaugh in charge. I hear Anne Coulter is going to be first lady. If you want to know what the GOP position is just turn on your talk radio? They dont dare do anything without Rush's premission.

Posted by: MarcMyWords | January 29, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Recall that poppy bush was, at one time, the head of the RNC also.

So there's no rule that says 'lightweights need not apply'.

Unfortunately for Steele, there IS a GOP rule that says 'no negros allowed'. Just ask Lee Atwater or Karl Rove. He would lose for them the deep south PLUS the non-electrified parts of West Virginia - which is basically all the GOP has left.

Too bad they don't have a 7th candidate. Then they could be jeered as the 7 dwarfs.

Whoever they pick, it won't matter. The GOP is DOA!

Posted by: Heerman532 | January 29, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse


You said:

"Any number of other candidates are grasping for the "change" mantle with former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele the most effective messenger due to his status as one of the few African American elected officials in the GOP and his strident criticism of the presidency of George W. Bush."

Michael Steele was only willing to criticize Bush once Bush went belly-up in late 2005 (and Steele, in Maryland, was trying to be elected Senator). Meanwhile, Steels' strident criticism included a moment in 2004 when Steele referred to Bush as his "homeboy."

It's not exactly strident to only criticize Bush when his numbers are down or when you're running in unfriendly territory. In general, you give way too much credibility to election-cycle or poll-number conversions (i.e. Norm Coleman the last two years -- The Fix seemed to believe he really had a moderate record).

It is appropriate that he is named Steele; steel is malleable.

Posted by: MickeyOne | January 29, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"The RNC is selling out out party's future if they don't choose Michael Steele. Katon Dawson is a PR disaster just waiting to explode. Duncan has the residue of the last 2 years of the Bush Administration all over him. We need a chairman who can command a presence on TV, who has credibility with the next generation of voters, and who can articulate core principles to people who are wary of a bunch of grumpy old white men. Steele is pragnatic enough to realize that ideological purity is self-destructive, and we can't continue to cut off our noses to spite our faces."

We're talking about the Republicans here. Ken Mehlman is probably about as ethnic those guys are going to get.

Posted by: DDAWD | January 29, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Why don't they just vote Rush Limbaugh? Conservatives don't seem to want to listen to anyone els.

Posted by: blueskypolitics | January 29, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

As a member of the Young Republicans, this is a no-brainer. The youth vote went to Obama because he appealed to my generation in a way that John McCain couldn't. Our country needs an opposition party that can adapt their principles to today's circumstances. The RNC is selling out out party's future if they don't choose Michael Steele. Katon Dawson is a PR disaster just waiting to explode. Duncan has the residue of the last 2 years of the Bush Administration all over him. We need a chairman who can command a presence on TV, who has credibility with the next generation of voters, and who can articulate core principles to people who are wary of a bunch of grumpy old white men. Steele is pragnatic enough to realize that ideological purity is self-destructive, and we can't continue to cut off our noses to spite our faces.

Posted by: TexasProud1 | January 29, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Send in the clowns,
Don't bother, they're here.

I know Michael Steele. He is a good guy but a complete lightweight.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | January 29, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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