Vote for new RNC chairman under way; Update: Steele drops out, endorses Cino; Update: Priebus on the brink of victory; Update: Priebus wins; Update: Correction added

There are five candidates in the race, but let’s face it: As far as most readers are concerned, this is a contest between Steele and Not Steele. After three rounds of balloting, with 85 votes needed to win, the ice beneath his feet has already begun to crack. He pulled 44 votes in the first round but has been ebbing ever since, landing in second with 33 votes in round three. The rumor on Twitter is that the U.S. territories like Guam, which comprise his base of support, are poised to throw their support to someone else in round four, so the end might finally be near.

If you’re late to this story and wondering where the anti-Steele sentiment is coming from among the base, take two minutes to read this mind-bender from the Journal. I needed an aspirin afterward. We’ve known for ages that big donors have been abandoning the RNC (follow that last link and behold the eyepopping numbers vis-a-vis the DNC); what we didn’t know, or at least I didn’t, was that Steele apparently wasn’t doing much to try to keep them. Exit quotation: “You can’t even dream of winning in 2012 with that kind of operation.”

Update: Fourth round results are in and Steele is now down to 28 votes, tied for third. I assume he’ll drop out before round five.

Update: Surprise: According to Dave Weigel, who’s reporting live from the RNC meeting, Steele is … staying in for the next round.

Update: Weigel was wrong. Finally, finally, Steele is out. He’s endorsing Maria Cino, who also happens to be Boehner’s pick and an establishment favorite. She’s also a Bush pal, so she should have no trouble getting big donors on the phone if she wins.

Erick Erickson wrote a post about Cino a few days ago describing her as a bit too establishment for grassroots tastes. Quote: “Were I an RNC committeeman … I would be deeply worried about the rift between the tea party movement and the RNC right now.”

Update: Round five results: Priebus 67, Cino 40, Anuzis 32, Wagner 28. Priebus can clinch if he can convince any of the others to drop out and endorse him.

Update: Geez, even Steele’s endorsement isn’t worth much. After round six, Priebus is just five votes away. Results: Priebus 80, Cino 34, Anuzis 37, Wagner 17. Unless the last three can come to sort of consensus candidate among them and convince all of their supporters to line up behind him/her, Priebus should clinch in the next round.

Update: And on the seventh ballot, Reince Priebus finally clinches. Results: Priebus 97, Anuzis 43, Cino 28. Wagner dropped out shortly beforehand without endorsing anyone. The main reaction on Twitter at the moment appears to be, “How do you pronounce ‘Reince’?”

Here’s Steele’s farewell speech. Memo to “Reince”: Start fundraising today.

Update: Dave Weigel e-mails to say that his report of Steele staying in the race earlier wasn’t “wrong.” In fact, another reporter was there when he said it. Steele simply changed his mind from one moment to the next. Duly noted.

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