In last Friday’s vote for Republican National Committee chairman, it took seven dramatic rounds before a winner emerged, and the results of each round spoke volumes about the state of the Republican party and the challenges it faces as it prepares for the 2012 elections.
The five candidates vying for the RNC leadership were its first-term chairman and former Maryland lieutenant governor, Michael Steele; Wisconsin GOP chairman, Reince Priebus; Maria Cino, a former RNC official; Ann Wagner, the former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg; and Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. To win, a candidate needed to receive the vote of at least 85 out of 168 committee members.
The writing may have been on the wall after the first ballot. The votes came in with Priebus on top at forty-five votes to Steele’s forty-four. Cino, in third place with thirty-two votes, put in a surprisingly strong showing given that she is not a current RNC member and the committee does not tend to vote for outsiders. Anuzis and Wagner came in fourth and fifth with twenty-four and twenty-three votes, respectively.
In the second round, Steele began to slip, receiving thirty-seven votes to Priebus’s fifty-two. A favorite coming into the voting, Priebus had been the subject of accusations by some that he is a loyal supporter of former RNC Chair and current Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and would provide Barbour with an unfair advantage in a potential presidential bid. This suspicion was furthered by the endorsement of Priebus by Henry Barbour, Gov. Barbour’s nephew and head of the Mississippi RNC. Priebus has denied that he would show favoritism, financial or otherwise, as chairman of the RNC.
As the third vote closed, Priebus inched up to fifty-four votes, and Steele dropped to thirty-three while Wagner surged to thirty-two, pulling ahead of Cino’s twenty-eight. At this point, just after three PM, Steele began to maneuver within the convention, meeting with Wagner and her representatives, apparently to consolidate support around a non-Priebus candidate. When they emerged from a private room about fifteen minutes later, Steele replied with a simple “no” to a reporter who asked if a deal had been reached.
In the fourth round of voting, Priebus rose to a total of fifty-eight votes. Cino managed twenty-nine while Steele and Wagner tied with twenty-eight each. Anuzis remained stuck in last place with twenty-four votes. Just before four PM, Michael Steele announced that he would withdraw his name from contention. In a speech to the convention he asked that he be remembered for the tremendous electoral success that the party enjoyed under his watch. Despite a rocky tenure filled with accusations of misstatements and financial mismanagement from many members of his own party, Steele received a several minute long standing ovation from the convention. “And now, I exit stage right,” he said.
Steele urged his supporters to shift their allegiance to Cino, but in the next round, they seemed to split evenly among several of the remaining candidates. Priebus received sixty-seven votes; Cino, forty; Anuzis, thirty-two; and Wagner, twenty-eight.
By the sixth round, Priebus appeared unstoppable in his march to victory, receiving eighty votes, just five shy of the chairmanship. His closest competitor was Anuzis, with thirty-seven votes. At this point, just before five PM, Wagner withdrew and made no endorsement. The final vote put Priebus over the top, with ninety-seven votes to forty-three for Anuzis. Cino came in last with twenty-eight votes.
As the new chairman, Priebus has his work cut out for him. What is likely to be a hotly contested presidential race looms just around the corner in 2012. Members of President Obama’s team have regularly discussed running a $1 billion campaign, with outside groups matching their funds, for a total of $2 billion.
Priebus will also face a GOP voter base that has become mistrustful of the committee and a donor base that has largely determined they are better off making their political investments with other groups. In short, Priebus has his work cut out for him, though as head of a resurgent party, he will not need a miracle to reassemble its fund-raising apparatus, only a well thought out strategy and reassurance to donors that he can oversee a more responsible operation than the one that preceded it.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org