By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
The consensus among a large swath of the 168 Republican National Committee members who will gather this morning to elect a chairman for the next two years is clear: anybody but Michael Steele.
As New Hampshire GOP Committee Chair and former White House chief of staff John Sununu told ABC News yesterday: “I think it’s a foregone conclusion — he’s done." http://abcn.ws/gZQAY8
“Whether it’s his fault or not his fault doesn’t matter at this point,” Sununu said. “It’s clear he can’t continue to run the committee …. People don’t have enough confidence in him.”
About 24 hours before today’s RNC general session, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET at a conference center just outside Washington, Sununu followed in the footsteps of several dozen of his fellow committee members and endorsed Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus for the chairmanship.
Priebus can lay claim to the most public endorsements ahead of the vote — a sign, his supporters say, of real momentum. But backers of other candidates, including former Missouri Republican Party chair Ann Wagner, former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, and former Bush administration official Maria Cino, warn that the chairmanship is still up for grabs.
Does Steele still have supporters? Yes. In fact, RNC watchers say that the current chairman could win the most votes on the first secret ballot cast on Friday, but after that things get interesting. Shifting allegiances and internal lobbying could drain his support as members flock toward a consensus candidate. As former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said, the first vote is “almost ceremonial.”
“Then you start seeing people thinking about making a change,” Duncan told ABC News yesterday. “By the third ballot there could potentially be a winner, but most likely it’s going to take until the fourth or fifth ballot.” (It took six rounds of voting to elect Steele in 2009.)
Two years ago when Steele won the race, he immediately declared that it was “time for something completely different and we’re going to bring it to them.”
“We’re going to bring this party to every corner, to every boardroom, to every neighborhood, to every community,” he said in Jan. 2009. “And we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, ‘we want you to be a part of us, we want you to be with us.’”
His critics say he has fallen far short, and while there’s still a chance Steele could pull off a surprise win (recall that conventional wisdom also held that he was not going to run for re-election at all), most committee members think it’s time for change.
BOTTOM LINE: The challenge ahead for the party is immense. As one state GOP chair told the Note this week: “Who would want this job?” The reward for whomever captures the majority of RNC members in today’s vote is to take the reins of power at a committee in serious trouble: debts in the range of $15 million or more, a major donor program that many insiders say will have to be rebuilt, not to mention the biggest challenge heading into the 2012 election cycle — the juggernaut that will be Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
As RNC chair candidate Maria Cino told ABC News recently, Republicans should be prepared to take on a billion dollar election effort waged by Team Obama. “It's not just a $20 million debt,” Cino said, “it's a campaign that is coming at us like a freight train.” http://abcn.ws/eL7s5E
IS COOPERATION MAKING A COMEBACK? “Americans overwhelmingly welcomed the flurry of lawmaking between the lame-duck Congress and President Obama last month — but they're hedging their bets on whether the duck keeps quacking,” ABC News polling analyst Gary Langer writes.
“Seventy-seven percent in this ABC News/Yahoo! News poll say it was good for Obama and Congress to agree to lame-duck legislation on tax cuts, unemployment benefits, gays in the military, the START treaty and aid to 9/11 responders. That includes majorities across the spectrum — 91 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans. Whether it lasts is another matter: Whatever the lame-duck session achieved, Americans divide evenly on the chances Obama and the Republicans in Congress will work together on important issues in the year ahead. Forty-eight percent are optimistic about it — just 14 percent ‘strongly’ so — but about as many, 46 percent, are pessimistic about the prospects for political cooperation.” http://abcn.ws/g0AoYO
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Amy Walter welcomes Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who will talk about the debate over stricter gun control laws in the wake of last weekend’s shooting in Arizona. Also on the program, Jane Sasseen, Yahoo! News Opinions and Politics Editor-in-Chief, to talk about today’s new poll. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
THE LATEST FROM ARIZONA. “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is opening both eyes, moving both legs and arms and is responding to friends and family. Her doctors call it a ‘major milestone’ in her recovery,” according to a dispatch from the Associated Press. “‘We're hoping that she crosses through many more,’ said her neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole. Her remarkable recovery five days after being shot through the head has provided a much-needed dose of jubilation after a tragic week that left the nation in mourning.”
“The three-term Democrat first opened her eyes on her own Wednesday evening while surrounded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and close friends from Congress. Her left eye, which was unbandaged, started to flicker and she struggled a bit to widen it.” http://abcn.ws/gsktCd
Possible Leads on Jared Lee Loughner: Black bag found near Loughners' home may provide new evidence. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/fK6foA
FULL COVERAGE of the aftermath of last weekend’s shooting on ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/Tucson_Tragedy/
GETTING BACK TO BUSINESS? If we were looking for a sign that the tragedy in Tucson has led politicians to re-evaluate and revamp their language we won't find it in next week's debate on health care repeal. It's still called the "job killing" health care law.
“In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, the House GOP leadership postponed the vote [on repeal of the new health care law] that was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, but they will resume discussions on the issue next week,” ABC’s Huma Khan reports. “Republicans say there's no reason to further postpone the debate on an issue they feel propelled them to a majority in the House. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the chief proponents of repealing the law who himself has been criticized by the left for his comments, said if anyone, it will be Democrats who will likely turn up the rhetoric.” http://abcn.ws/dTA7Wq
ROMNEY ON THE ROAD. “Likely Republican US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney met on Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his Jerusalem residence, the first of a long list of presidential candidates expected in Israel this year to bolster their Mideast and foreign policy credentials prior to the primaries and November 2012 elections,” the Jerusalem Post reports. “Netanyahu put out a brief statement saying they had discussed advancing a diplomatic process with the Palestinians based on security, and the Iranian nuclear challenge.” http://bit.ly/eiuTu1
NOTED: “[Romney] has secured both a pollster and a political director for his near-certain presidential bid this coming cycle, according to sources connected to Romney's 2008 presidential effort,” Real Clear Politics’ Erin McPike reports. “Rich Beeson, a Republican operative who has worked as a political director at the Republican National Committee and was most recently a partner at the voter contact firm FLS Connect, will be Romney's political director. Beeson has already moved his family to Massachusetts for his new role. A GOP source who worked against Romney in the last campaign said Beeson was a savvy hire for Romney's team, as he brings an outsider perspective to Romney's Boston inner circle. … And for polling, Romney is bringing on Neil Newhouse, a partner at the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.” http://bit.ly/iine07
A BIPARTISAN STATE OF THE UNION. “When President Obama comes to Capitol Hill in two weeks to deliver the State of the Union address, what are the chances that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will heed the call of Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO, to sit together, rather than divided by party? Simply put: unlikely,” ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe and John R. Parkinson note. “But asked if House Republican leadership was giving any serious consideration to the idea, an aide replied bluntly, “Nope.” Members of Congress, however, can sit wherever they want, on a first-come, first-serve basis, so this is not a situation where members have to agree en masse to Udall’s idea.” http://abcn.ws/eOr1Gs
Do re-tweets equal endorsements? If so, Sen. Udall may have some backing for his idea from Arizona Sen. John McCain who re-tweeted Udall yesterday: @MarkUdall: Join my call for both parties in Congress to sit together at the State of the Union address http://bit.ly/bridgethedivide Plz RT #SOTU
PALIN ON HANNITY. “Sarah Palin is scheduled to sit for her first extended interview since the Tucson shooting rampage on Monday night, on the Fox News Channel,” The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg reports. “An executive at Fox News Channel said that Ms. Palin would appear on the program of the conservative host Sean Hannity, and that the interview was scheduled to run through several commercial breaks.” http://nyti.ms/ekE3b2
@WestWingReport: On This Day. 1943. Franklin Roosevelt became the first sitting President to fly – and to leave the U.S. in wartime
HOOLBROOKE FUNERAL. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will attend Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s funeral service this afternoon at the Kennedy Center. The president plans to deliver remarks. Holbrooke passed away on Dec. 13 at age 69.
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