Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus edged embattled incumbent Michael Steele as the top finisher in the first and second rounds of balloting for the Republican National Committee chairmanship on Friday.
In the second round, Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin GOP who entered as the frontrunner, received 52 votes, to Steele’s 37.
Priebus' lead widened from the first round where he led Steele by just one vote.
Also in the second round, Maria Cino, endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former Vice President Dick Cheney, received 30 votes.
Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis got 27 votes and former ambassador and RNC member Ann Wagner received 22.
The RNC committee has recessed here at National Harbor in Maryland, where the organization has held its winter meetings since yesterday.
The committee is scheduled to begin the second round of voting shortly after 2 p.m. EST.
Voting will continue until a candidate receives 85 votes—from the total 168-member committee—in a single round.
If a winner isn’t elected after three rounds of balloting, the field could open up.
Candidates who fail to amass the required votes aren’t required to drop out, so voting could drag on and make for a long afternoon. After all, Steele didn’t win in 2009 until the sixth ballot, defeating South Carolina Party Chairman Katon Dawson, 91-77.
But given the strength of Priebus’s support, many here believe he could secure the chairmanship after three rounds.
In any case, no one seems to expect Steele to win a second term. Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, has failed to attract much support after a series of missteps, both in his public statements and in his management of the organization.
During the nominating process Friday, a Steele supporter stood and implored his fellow committee members to reelect the chairman: "What corporation changes the head when you've just had the biggest year?” the man said of the GOP House victories in November. “Let's keep it going!"
That may not be enough to save Steele. Last summer, his description of the conflict in Afghanistan as "a war of Obama's choosing,” angered Republicans who backed the war. Last winter, he suggested that Republicans wouldn’t take back the House.
Under his stewardship, the RNC has fallen $20 million into debt after several questionable spending decisions.
One involved nearly $2,000 spent at a sex-themed West Hollywood night club (Steele wasn’t present). Steele also failed to keep big donors engaged.
On Friday morning, Steele delivered likely his final speech to the committee as its chairman. He refrained from outright politicking, which is forbidden on the floor of Friday’s session.
But his remarks seemed to drip with sugary praise for committee members who will decide his fate.
"It does not get done without you, our state chairmen and our national committeemen and women," Steele said. He added, "You did not shrink from the challenge. You did not walk away from the opportunity. The effort of our party speaks for itself."
Steele also defended his record at helping to win the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and take back control of the House. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.