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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 11/29/2010

Wagner launches bid for RNC chair

By Aaron Blake

Former ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner entered the race for the Republican National Committee chairmanship Monday, becoming the second candidate to launch a potential challenge to Chairman Michael Steele.

In a video posted to her Web site, the former RNC co-chairwoman and Missouri GOP chairwoman pitches herself as the cure for the committee's financial woes. The RNC finds itself in a large amount of debt and struggled to fund the party's winning efforts down the stretch of the Nov. 2 election.

"2012 will be a challenging election cycle," Wagner said. "The RNC needs to be funded to its maximum obligations. We must be efficient, relevant, professional and credible. We must start immediately to erase past debate and restore the confidence of our donor base."

Wagner, like others eyeing the chairmanship, declined to criticize the chairman personally, but made plenty of allusions to the problems that have occurred on his watch.

Wagner also called for greater responsibility and transparency in the RNC's budget - a pretty direct shot at the myriad financial problems that have occurred on Steele's watch.

Those budget woes were detailed in a letter by recently resigned former RNC political director Gentry Collins, who is considering joining Wagner in the race for the chairmanship.

The only other candidate who has officially entered the race is former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis. Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus and former RNC official Maria Cino have both taken steps toward a run, and other potential candidates include former RNC chairman Mike Duncan, Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring and Republican Governors Association Executive Director Nick Ayers.

Healy told FrumForum that he hopes to make an announcement this week.

Former senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) has said he might run, but only if Steele does not.

Steele has yet to say whether he will run for a second two-year term, but many expect him to.

The 168 members of the RNC will decide on their new chairman next month. Each state reserves one of its three spots on the committee for a woman, and so far Wagner and Cino are the only two female candidates who have been mentioned for the post. That means there could be a sizeable natural constituency for one or both of them to take advantage of.

Wagner, notably, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2012. Given that the RNC chairmanship will be decided in the coming weeks, she could still very well run for Senate if she doesn't become the next RNC chairwoman.

A source close to Wagner didn't rule out a Senate campaign Monday.

"Between now and mid-January, Ann Wagner is singularly focused on her campaign to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee," the source said.

Wagner, upon returning from her stint in Luxembourg, chaired Sen.-elect Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) winning campaign in her home state. An RNC source said she built up good will among Republicans by taking on such a tough enterprise -- electing a candidate with plenty of lobbyist ties who is also a former GOP leader elected in a swing state -- upon returning from her ambassadorship.

"She did a really good job," said the source, who is neutral in the chairmanship race.

Another RNC source said Wagner becomes a major player instantly.

"She's definitely a heavyweight," the source said. "Between Wagner, Anuzis and the other people rumored to be jumping into the race in the future, I think Steele has to be concerned by the amount of talented and experienced opposition he's attracting."

By Aaron Blake  | November 29, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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