RNC Chairman Michael Steele's Re-Election Chances Appear to Weaken

Reince Priebus heads into Friday's vote with momentum.

ByABC News
January 13, 2011, 8:30 PM

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Jan. 14, 2011 — -- The 168 members of the Republican National Committee are poised to elect a party leader on Friday in a vote that could end the tumultuous two-year term of current RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Members of the committee from all 50 states as well as U.S. territories as far away as Guam who are gathered at a conference center just outside Washington, D.C., were preparing for what could be a lengthy, multiple-ballot contest that will decide a contentious race between five candidates vying for the RNC's top job.

Though some of Steele's allies warned it was premature to count him out, many GOP insiders predicted that his time at the helm of the RNC was drawing to a close.

"I think it's a foregone conclusion he's done," said New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu. "Whether it's his fault or not his fault doesn't matter at this point. It's clear he can't continue to run the committee. The contributors have made it clear. A number of the states have made it clear. People don't have enough confidence in him."

Sununu, who served as White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush, formally endorsed Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus for RNC chairman on Thursday. Heading into the vote, Priebus has more public endorsements than any other candidate, including Steele.

Other contenders for the position include former Missouri Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner, former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, and former Bush administration official Maria Cino.

The candidates and their supporters spent Thursday feverishly securing last-minute endorsements. Each one expressed optimism that they would find a path to the chairmanship.

"I feel good, I feel strong," said Wagner, a former ambassador to Luxembourg under President George W. Bush.

Wagner added that she had been "burning up the phone lines," over the last few weeks, lobbying members to join her side.