Reince Priebus Has Edge in Race to Republican Chairman

Republican consensus is that chairman's job is up for grabs.

ByABC News
January 11, 2011, 6:39 PM

Jan. 12, 2011 -- With just days to go until members of the Republican National Committee elect a chairman to lead them into the 2012 presidential election cycle, Wisconsin's Reince Priebus appears to have the edge while incumbent Michael Steele seems to have the longest odds for keep the job.

The consensus among party insiders, however, is that the race is still essentially anybody's game.

With five candidates vying for the position, including current RNC Chairman Michael Steele, a quirky election process that will likely include multiple ballots as well as a series of public commitments from members that could quickly shift once the voting begins, this Friday's election could turn into long day of arm twisting.

So far, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus has captured more endorsements from the 168 GOP state chairs and national committee members than any other candidate.

Steele, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, former Missouri GOP chair Ann Wagner and long-time Republican operative Maria Cino appear to be trailing. But dozens of members are either undecided or unwilling to publicly commit to a candidate.

One RNC committee member told ABC News there's a "pretty deep and wide consensus among a lot of us that Steele needs to go."

Whoever wins will inherit a party committee that, despite impressive midterm election year victories, is hobbled by financial woes, including debt reaching into the tens of millions as well as a crippled major donor program. The job won't be about being figurehead for the party -- that role will fall to the eventual Republican presidential nominee -- but rather about running an organization that many committee members believe has veered off course.

In a memo to committee members this week, even Steele acknowledged that "many of the RNC's past major donors are no longer politically active, or followed past party leaders to 527s which are not bound by the donation limits and disclosure requirements which apply to the RNC."