End of the line for Steele?

The race for the chair of the RNC has been a wide-open affair, with a number of contenders for the spot now occupied by Michael Steele, including Steele himself.  The eventual winner needs a majority of the 168 members of the national committee, which means that no candidate can afford to have more than 83 members declare themselves opposed.  Unfortunately for Steele, Politico’s latest head count shows 88 RNC votes aligned against him no matter who opposes the current chair:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele faces an all-but-impossible path to reelection this month, as a majority of the RNC’s 168 members indicate that they will not support the controversial chairman for another term.

A weeklong canvass of the party’s governing board by POLITICO revealed 88 members who have decided not to vote for Steele, either opting to support one of his opponents or simply ruling out Steele as a choice in the race.

Fifty-five members, some of whom have endorsed one of Steele’s challengers, have signaled that they will not support the chairman under any circumstances. An additional 33 pledged their support elsewhere.

Just as telling, not a single member of the committee said that Steele was their second choice in the race – a grave indicator in a contest likely to be decided in multiple ballots.

It’s not over yet, though.  Depending on whether Steele can survive the early rounds of voting, he may wind up benefiting from opposition to other candidates.  It wouldn’t be impossible, for instance, for a matchup between Maria Cino and Steele to get a few pro-life voters reconsidering, even with Cino’s defense of her pro-life record over the last few days.  The 55 who are adamant Anybody But Steele voters don’t make a completely insurmountable obstacle to Steele’s ambitions.

However, they do make it difficult, and as Politico notes, the lack of Steele as a fallback candidate for most of the others would appear to seal his fate.  Cino is at the moment a second-tier candidate herself.  Wisconsin party chair Reince Priebus has the most votes in Politico’s survey with 32 publicly announced endorsements, followed by Missouri chair Ann Wagner with 13.  Both have long track records of organizing and fundraising, the two areas in which Steele disappointed in the last two years.  Over fifty voting members declined to comment or failed to respond to the straw poll conducted by Politico, which means there may be even more voters completely opposed to Steele’s return.

One other factor will play against Steele in this election, which is the insider track the race has taken.  We aren’t seeing marquee candidates, like former governors or presidential candidates.  The RNC seems very focused on finding people with actual competencies in the core responsibilities of the job — fundraising and organizing — as the party prepares for a huge election cycle in 2012.   The voting members seem to have lost their taste for media personalities and glib talk-show appearances after living through Steele’s tenure in the top job.  That has made the chair election a lot less interesting in terms of breathless media updates, but underscores the seriousness of the GOP’s approach to the position this time around.