Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus has emerged as the frontrunner in the race for the RNC chairmanship. His status as Michael Steele's former right-hand man has enabled him to peel off important members of Steele's coalition and win the backing of some of Steele's biggest critics (Priebus's candidacy seems to have eliminated whatever chance Steele stood of winning reelection).
But Priebus's association with Steele may now be coming back to bite him. In a New Year's Eve email to fellow RNC members, Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healy criticized Priebus for failing to stand up to Steele (Priebus served as the RNC's general counsel under Steele after he managed Steele's successful 2009 bid for RNC chair). "At no time until he chose to run did [Priebus] issue any directive, memo or public utterance on Steele’s disastrous tenure," wrote Healy. He went on:
When Steele made several inane comments about Russ Limbaugh, the double-standard he was held to because of his race or the war in Afghanistan, [Priebus] was put in charge of damage control, often asking members to sign letters of support. I received two calls from Reince asking for such support.
Priebus didn't respond over the holiday weekend to a request from TWS for comment on Healy's charges, but he'll likely have to answer them at Monday's RNC debate in Washington, D.C.
Priebus shouldn't be underestimated--he presided over impressive victories in Wisconsin this fall and has scored endorsements from influential RNC members such as Henry Barbour (Haley Barbour's nephew) and RNC Conservative Caucus Chairman Jim Bopp. But Healy's letter is an indication that an "anybody but Steele--or Priebus" coalition may be emerging. Healy noted that while he supported Gentry Collins, a former RNC official, he believes the three other candidates in the race--Saul Anuzis, Maria Cino, and Ann Wagner--all have the qualities necessary to run the RNC.
With Collins announcing his withdrawal from the race on Sunday night, it seems that either Anuzis or Wagner is most likely to become Priebus's main opponent. Cino, a former Bush administration official, has gained little traction in the race and has faced criticism for her donations to a pro-abortion GOP PAC. Anuzis is the former Michigan GOP chairman who ran for the RNC chairmanship in 2009 and came in third place. He is a current RNC committeeman and was the first to announce his RNC candidacy after the November elections. Wagner is the former Missouri GOP chairwoman and former RNC co-chairman, and she's also served as ambassador to Luxembourg and chairman of Roy Blunt's 2010 Senate campaign. Wagner may be hurt by the RNC rule that requires the RNC chair and co-chair to be opposite sexes. That means supporters of female co-chair candidates Jan Larimer and Sharon Day will not be inclined to support Wagner for chair. So that rule may give Anuzis an edge over Wagner.
All of the candidates will debate tomorrow in Washington, D.C. You can watch the debate here at 1:00 p.m. The election will be held at the RNC winter meeting, which begins January 12 and ends January 15.