Preview Of The RNC Debate

The five contenders vying to be the next chair of the Republican National Committee will debate each other today, in what should be the kickoff event to a 12 day sprint to the Jan. 15 election at the RNC’s winter meeting.

Reince Priebus, Maria Cino, Ann Wagner, and Saul Anuzis are challenging Michael Steele, who is running for re-election for another two-year term and recently defended his tenure, responded to criticisms, and shot back at his critics in an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS.

Yet, even before the debate, there were many significant developments on Sunday.

Last night, Gentry Collins dropped out of the RNC race, and it was revealed that the RNC’s communication director, Doug Heye, would leave after the RNC members pick their new chairman.

To date, the candidates have hesitated in drawing overt distinctions among themselves, but that may change in the coming days.

Here are some potential storylines that may emerge:

1. Will candidates directly attack Michael Steele?

Many candidates have refrained from attacking Steele directly. Perhaps there is some strategy involved here. If the candidates think Steele has no chance of getting a majority, the thinking is that they will need some of his supporters to put together their winning coalition. It will be interesting to see which candidates attack Steele directly in the weeks ahead.

2. How will Steele interact with Priebus?

Priebus was once an enthusiastic supporter of and surrogate for Steele. It will be interesting to see how he and Steele interact and how the other candidates potentially use Priebus’ past enthusiastic support for Steele against Priebus.

3.  Will social conservatives trust Maria Cino?  

While Cino is backed by many prominent GOP establishment figures associated with the Bush Administration, such as Dick Cheney, Ed Gillespie, and Mary Matalin, she faces questions with social conservatives similar to those Steele faced when he first ran for for Chairman two years ago. Her last name also unfortunately can be an acronym for “Conservative-in-name-only (CINO).” But Cino has released one action plan after another, and may be the most CEO-like of all the candidates, which is why many in the GOP establishment are supporting her candidacy, and thinking she is the candidate that unite all wings of the Republican Party. This is why how she potentially deals with social conservatives who do not trust her in the weekdays ahead will serve as an important test of whether her establishment supporters are right about her ability to be a consensus builder.

4. The Intriguing Ann Wagner:

There is some talk going around that it may be a better public relations move for the RNC, if it does not re-elect Steele, to replace its first African-American Chairman with a Chairwoman. What makes Wagner intriguing is she has the establishment credentials, having been the RNC’s co-chair in the past, to gain the confidence of RNC members but has not been a part of the DC establishment in recent years, which makes her palatable to anti-establishment Tea Party conservatives. She is in good standing with social conservatives, and, after an election in which Sarah Palin’s Republican “Mama Grizzlies” became a household name, Wagner may be a “Mama Grizzly” type candidate with the best chance of uniting the establishment, Tea Party, and social conservative elements of the Republican coalition. Wagner may not get the most votes on the first ballot, but it will be interesting to see if she gains strength in subsequent rounds of voting.

5. Can Anuzis put the pieces together?

Anuzis supported Jack Kemp for President, has a great life story (the son of Lithuanian immigrants who had to learn English), has support among some Tea Party organizations and has made technological advancement a centerpiece of his campaign. He’s also shown an ability to amicably bury the hatchet with past enemies, which is a sign of a good leader. Anuzis, though, has yet to put together a thesis statement answering why he would be better for this job than the other candidates. He may have to draw more explicit contrasts with his opponents if he is to win.

6. Can Steele win?

In a fragmented race where nobody seems to be peaking, could there be a path to victory for the current chairman? Steele supporters will claim he presided over the RNC during a period of historic resurgence. His detractors will say the GOP came back despite him. And were Steele to win, could he possibly lead an organization when many seem dissatisfied with him personally (to be fair, many members never gave Steele a fair shot to succeed from the very beginning). Steele recently defended his tenure and answered his critics in an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS.

7. Will any potential presidential candidate endorse?

Will any potential 2012 presidential contender endorse someone in the days head? If so, would such an endorsement even carry much weight in what is a notoriously an “inside baseball” election?