The current chairman's opponents acknowledged that Steele might receive the most votes on the first secret ballot cast on Friday, but said his support likely would dwindle in subsequent rounds. Two years ago, it took more than four hours and six ballots to elect Steele as chairman.
RNC officials said there was no way of knowing how long the voting will take. Friday's general session begins at 10:30 a.m. ET and the official meeting schedule lists 8 p.m. ET as the estimated end time.
Whoever wins will inherit committee hobbled by financial difficulties, including debt in the range of $15 million or more.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, who is opposing Steele and briefly flirted with running again for the chairmanship this year, said that what the RNC needs in a new leader is "competence, pure and simple."
"We've got plenty of spokesmen for the party," Duncan said in an interview with ABC News. "It's someone who understands the budget, understands how to raise the money and understands how to implement the programs that we need going into a presidential election."