Four challengers try to unseat Michael Steele as Republican Party chair

The Republican National Committee votes Friday on the chairmanship. As this term of Michael Steele draws to a close, the Republican Party is $20 million in debt.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele makes his remarks during a Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Oxon Hill, Md., on Jan. 14.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is in the fight of his political life, hoping to hold off four challengers in an election Friday for his position atop the GOP.

While political handicapping is a dangerous game, few observers think Mr. Steele will be reelected, given the numerous controversies that have dogged his time in office. Also, at the end of his first term, the Republican Party is $20 million in debt.

ABC News’s political unit quotes John Sununu, New Hampshire GOP committee chair and former White House chief of staff, as saying, “I think it's a foregone conclusion – he's done." The outspoken Mr. Sununu added, "It's clear he can't continue to run the committee.... People don't have enough confidence in him."

A key issue for RNC members gathered at a Maryland hotel: picking a chairman who can win back the confidence of major donors before fundraising for the 2012 presidential election begins in earnest. Successful fundraising will be essential if Republicans wish to deny President Obama a second term in the White House. In his first bid for the White House, Mr. Obama raised $750 million.

Although Republicans took back the House in November’s election, party fundraising lagged. The RNC raised only $7 million from major donors in the midterm elections, according to a new analysis by The Washington Post. That was one-sixth as much as the RNC raised in 2006, and it contrasts with $38 million raised by Democrats in 2010.

The RNC's election procedures mean that multiple ballots are likely, with Steele’s best shot on the first round, when party officials may want to send him a message of thanks. Only 24 RNC committee members have committed to vote for Steele, according to a running tally by Politico.

In his first bid for the RNC chair in 2009, it took Steele six ballots to garner a simple majority of 85 votes.

Those challenging Steele at the party's annual winter meeting are:

Reince Priebus. The Wisconsin Republican Party chairman is the front-runner in Politico’s running tally with 44 votes. Previously close to Steele, he has faced criticism for not speaking out sooner about RNC management issues.

Saul Anuzis. He is a former chair of the Michigan GOP who ran against Steele for the chairmanship two years ago. He has 16 supporters, Politico says.

Maria Cino. She is a longtime RNC official who played a key role in planning the 2008 Republican convention. House Speaker John Boehner has endorsed her, writing a letter to RNC members saying she is “exceptionally politically savvy and knows what it takes to win." She has 14 votes lined up, Politico says.

Ann Wagner. She was named US ambassador to Luxembourg by President George W. Bush and is a former Missouri GOP chair. She was RNC co-chair from 2001 to 2005. According to Politico, she has the support of 12 RNC committee members.

Just to make things interesting, the RNC has a rule that the gender of the co-chairman must be different from the chair's. If a woman wins as chairman, it will upset the plans of the two current front-runners for the vice chairman’s post: Jan Larimer of Wyoming and Sharon Day of Florida. That would open the field for Roger Villere Jr. of Louisiana.

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