The five candidates running to lead the Republican National Committee will debate Monday afternoon, and many expect the contest to turn ugly as an embattled Michael Steele fights to hold onto his job. The current chairman will "name names" and "make it personal," Fox News' Chris Stirewalt reports. Few in Washington expected Steele to run for reelection, given his many cringe-worthy remarks and poor fundraising record (the RNC will likely face a debt of $12 million at the start of next year, by far the biggest debt ever in a presidential campaign year). Now few expect Steele to win.

The candidates are Wisconsin committee chair Reince Priebus, ex-Michigan chair Saul Anuzis, ex-RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, and ex-RNC deputy chair Maria Cino. They need 85 of the 168 RNC members' votes to win. "The man to watch is Priebus, the frontrunner in public endorsements," Stirewalt reports. "The knock on Priebus is that he and Steele are somehow in cahoots." Priebus is even using the same political consultants Steele used. "The suspicion is that Priebus is either a stalking horse intended to divide the opposition and clear a path for Steele, or that Steele has remained in the race to block for Priebus. For Talladega Nights fans, this would be the 'shake and bake' strategy. But who’s Ricky Bobby in this scenario?"

Stirewalt says Steele will be going after Cino and Wagner, who worked at the RNC during the Bush years, which many members don't want to revisit.

  • Impossible for Steele to Win, Politico's Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report. The reporters talked to RNC members and found "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. ... Just as telling, not a single member of the committee said that Steele was their second choice in the race--a grave indicator in a contest likely to be decided in multiple ballots. Further, whip counts kept by several of the chairman's opponents suggest the Anybody-but-Steele bloc could be even larger, including as many as 90 to 100 members."
  • Priebus Is a No-Go, Big Government's Mike Flynn argues. "The 'frontrunner' to succeed [Steele] is Reince Priebus–because Augustus Gloop III wasn't available. Priebus, in addition to being party chair in WI, is the former right-hand man to Steele. He served has the campaign manager for Steele's run for Chair and then took a staff job as General Counsel at the RNC, which would position him to approve all of Steele's contracts with outside consultants or friends. Which he did, apparently." Flynn adds that Cino lobbied for Pfizer to pass Obamacare. "We absolutely can’t have a retread of the Steele/Priebus/Cino cabal. If either of them win, we should create a Big PAC, leverage our own energy and resources, and do our own thing."
  • More on Priebus' Relationship with Steele  "For the most part, there were few RNC members who enjoyed an 'open door' policy with Chairman Steele," conservative blogger Dan Riehl writes. "The main one, who loved to take advantage of his no appointment necessary access will also be in the debate today--Reince Priebus. That might give you some idea of just how close and clued in was Priebus when it came to decision-making at the RNC. You know, those decisions that so many people seem to be taking exception to, now, including the Little Preince Priebus? Funny how a guy like the Little Preince can help make decisions and then turn on someone once they sense an opening. Just sayin'."
  • Members' Second Choice Matters More, The Washington Independent's Patrick Caldwell writes. "[S]ince the RNC chairman is chosen through multiple rounds of balloting until one candidate secures half the votes, the battle to win the election may hinge more on which candidate positions him or herself as the second choice of the most delegates. However, the other candidates do have a significant amount of ground to make up if they are to equal Priebus’ level of support. Former RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner currently sits as the second-place challenger to the incumbent, with 12 public supporters, followed by former Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis with 10 backers and Maria Cino with only six supporters."
  • Tricky Gender Problem, The Weekly Standard's John McCormack notes. "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."