RNC elections are very hard to predict. They run under special rules of gravity based nearly as much on personal relationships as ideology. My handicapping -- a partially informed guess at best -- is as follows. Reince Priebus, the very able Wisconsin state chair is the clear front-runner. Michael Steele the incumbent is way behind and nearly certain to lose. Most of the voters are still not telling outsiders their choice. But the actual committee members are talking to each other and those of us who have been around politics a long time and know a lot of committee members are hearing a certain buzz from the murky situation. That said, I think the likely final dynamic of the race will be Priebus versus the winner of a not-Priebus contest among the other candidates: (Maria Cino, Ann Wagner, Michael Steele and Saul Anuzis).
What to watch? The first ballot will be a key show of strength for Priebus. If Reince does well, he may surge on momentum and take it fast. Many of the RNC members have only made a first ballot commitment. If they think Priebus is going to surge, many will join the bandwagon to be on the winning side. These are all local party politicians after all. If he looks vulnerable, they may try to go somewhere else. Priebus' great strength is his outstanding record as Wisconsin GOP chair. His weakness comes from being a former close Steele ally and as such carries the ironic baggage of being disliked by the Steele forces for what they see as betrayal while also being seen by some of the anti-Steele vote as too close to the old Steele regime.
Saul Anuzis, a well-regarded former Michigan chair and longtime committee hand, has run before and has many friends on the committee. He is attempting to combine his natural support on the committee with the dozen or so Steele votes that will get free after the first ballot. My sources say he is doing increasingly well with second and third ballot commitments. My guess is that Saul will emerge as the leading opponent to Priebus after the first ballot. The vital question is whether Saul will show enough strength on the second ballot to generate his own momentum. The old pol's rule of "be for what is going to happen" will have a big effect on the second and third ballots.
My best guess? I think there is about a 60% chance that Priebus will take it, followed by a 35% chance for Anuzis and a 10% chance for a Cino upset. I'm probably being too kind to Maria Cino, but she too is an excellent operative. Her problem is that she has more support outside the RNC than on it; most on the RNC have a preference for "one of our own," and both Priebus and Anuzis are seasoned Committee pols. The good news is that no Steele type disaster is looming. I think Priebus, Anuzis and Cino would each make an excellent chair; we'll find out next week which of them has best mastered the art of inside wheeling and dealing in a tricky multiple ballot election.
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