Republicans Hunt For a New Party Chief

BY David Chalian  January 3, 2011 at 8:42 AM EDT

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

Michael Steele’s tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee appears to be coming to an end. File photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Before speaker-to-be John Boehner receives the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and delivers a message about the austere times ahead, before the newly ascendant House majority Republican conference votes to repeal the Obama administration’s health care reform law in unified fashion, and before incoming House Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrell Issa works down his to-do list of investigations, Republicans have a bit of unfinished business to which they need to tend.

It’s clear from the yeoman’s work provided by Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns of POLITICO that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has little hope of being elected to a second term:

> “A weeklong canvass of the party’s governing board by POLITICO revealed 88 members who have decided not to vote for Steele, either opting to support one of his opponents or simply ruling out Steele as a choice in the race.

“Fifty-five members, some of whom have endorsed one of Steele’s challengers, have signaled that they will not support the chairman under any circumstances. An additional 33 pledged their support elsewhere.”

Should those numbers hold, that places a simple majority of 85 votes out of reach for Steele.

Two of Steele’s top aides appear to see the writing on the wall. RNC chief of staff Michael Leavitt and communications director Doug Heye have announced their intentions to leave the committee following next week’s winter meeting, where the election of the next chairman will take place.

“At the Winter Meeting, the committee will be electing a Chair and I want to give whomever that might be the opportunity to choose their own staff without any complications,” writes Heye in an email to friends and associates sent Monday morning.

The battle to replace Steele at the helm of the party kicks into high gear Monday afternoon when all five candidates running for the job participate in a forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform and the Daily Caller.

Gentry Collins, the former RNC political director who issued a scathing memo several weeks ago about the management at the committee, announced on Sunday that he had decided to end his long-shot bid for chairman.

That leaves former Bush administration official Maria Cino, former Missouri Republican Party chairwoman Ann Wagner, former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis, and the frontrunner, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, as the four contenders.

Read the latest whip count from the National Journal’s Reid Wilson of Hotline fame here.

Each of the challengers is planning to make less of a personal argument against Steele’s style, which has churned more than a few stomach among many in the GOP establishment, and more of an argument against a terribly mismanaged party structure, both in terms of fundraising and administration.

Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times takes a look at the record-setting $20 million deficit at the RNC following one of the party’s most successful election cycles in decades.

But the most significant thing to watch for at Monday’s debate is how vigorously Steele defends his record and how committed he is to fighting this out in the face of very long odds.

RAISING THE CEILING

As members of the 112th Congress get ready to be sworn in Wednesday, one issue they’ll soon confront is whether to raise the debt ceiling.

On Sunday, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling “would be catastrophic” to the economy.

“I don’t see why anybody’s talking about playing chicken…with the debt ceiling,” Goolsbee said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If we get to the point where you’ve damaged the full faith and credit of the United States…that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity,” Goolsbee added.

The federal debt stands at $13.9 trillion and is expected to surpass the $14.3 trillion limit in the coming weeks. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the government might default on its obligations.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said defaulting would be “very bad” for the country’s standing in the world, but he indicated on NBC’s “Meet that Press” that he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling “until a plan is in place” to change how the government spends money.

For many conservatives, especially the dozens elected in November with Tea Party support, any “yes” vote on raising the debt ceiling will almost certainly be accompanied by cuts to the federal budget.

WINDY CITY BATTLE

Former Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun entered 2011 as the only African-American candidate in the race to become the next mayor of Chicago, after Rep. Danny Davis and Illinois state senator James Meeks both dropped out of the contest and endorsed her campaign.

Braun also has the support of Rev. Jesse Jackson, who according to the Chicago Tribune “held private meetings aimed at getting the major black contenders to unite to improve the chances of an African-American candidate winning the mayoral election.”

The other top candidates in the field are former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico and Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

At a church service Sunday, Braun took aim at Emanuel, questioning his Chicago residency as he spent the past two years working in Washington. “I don’t think Rahm Emanuel lives in Chicago. But there’s no question that I live here,” Braun said.

If none of the candidates wins a majority of the vote in the Feb. 22 election, it will trigger a runoff on April 5 between the top two finishers.

KAINE COMMITS

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine revealed Sunday that he plans to stay on as President Obama’s point main at party headquarters through the 2012 reelection campaign. There had been lots of speculation that the former Virginia governor might be seeking a slot in the president’s cabinet, but with little turnover expected there, Kaine appears ready to stay put.

Kaine made his remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union.”