Starting Lineup: RNC Edition

Good Friday morning from National Harbor, Maryland, where members of the Republican National Committee meet today to elect a chairman for the 2012 election cycle. In lieu of your normal Starting Lineup, we offer five things to watch for as voting gets under way shortly after 10 a.m. (Remember, a candidate needs 85 of 168 votes to win the chairmanship):

Michael Steele’s Votes: Steele is unlikely to win another term today, but he’s going to play a role in electing his successor. A bloc of Steele supporters — more than a dozen, fewer than two dozen — are expected to bolt his coalition after the first ballot. The unanswered question remains: Do those voters feel spurned by Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, the front-runner who once backed Steele, or are they more comfortable with him than with other candidates? If Priebus collects Steele’s voters on the second ballot, the race could be over pretty quickly. If those voters abscond to another contender, subsequent ballots will get very interesting, very fast.

The Front-Runner Label: Priebus has 43 public endorsers, half the votes he needs to win outright. His opponents have labeled him the front-runner, and Priebus has clearly embraced that mantle. But that could work to his disadvantage, especially if Priebus is seen as capitalizing on is once-close relationship with Steele. RNC voters, like the electorate at large, want change. If they don’t see Priebus as change, watch for a candidate like former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis, who has set himself up as the outsider candidate, to benefit.

Saul’s Stature: It is ironic that Anuzis would be seen as an outsider. He has served longer on the committee than any other candidate, and he’s got close relationships with a number of members. He is, in fact, quite the insider. What’s more, Anuzis has effectively been running for chairman for three straight years, with only the briefest of pauses in between his two bids. If committee members see Anuzis as desperate for the job, they may punish him. And his strategy of casting himself as an outsider is risky. But being close to members and being the “other” candidate give Saul Anuzis more potential upside than any other contender.

The RNC’s Woman Problem: A long-standing, and heretofore obscure, RNC rule requirers the chairman and the co-chairman to be of opposite genders. The two women running for co-chairmen a running aggressive campaigns, and it’s having an impact on Ann Wagner and Maria Cino, the two women running for chairman. If an RNC member has an affinity for one of the co-chairmen candidates, they have a disincentive to vote for Cino or Wagner. Wagner herself has made known to members that the women running for co-chair are hindering her campaign.

Down-Ballot Strategy: In 2009, Steele didn’t win until the sixth ballot. This year, with five contenders all sporting public support in the double-digits, we could be in for a similarly long day. Candidates have been asking for commitments of support on second, third and fourth ballots, anticipating a drawn-out contest. Whomever is best able to keep his or her own supporters, all while picking up support from others, will become the next chairman. Chart gains and losses by round to intuit whose support is migrating where, and you’ll have an idea as to who comes out on top.

Read more from Reid Wilson at Hotline On Call

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