WASHINGTON — Will he be fired or not?
GOP Chairman Michael Steele is fighting for survival atop the Republican National Committee, seeking to hold off four challengers accusing him of financial mismanagement and poor stewardship during his rocky, two-year tenure.
The 168 members of the RNC were set to vote by secret ballot Friday on who should serve as party chairman during the 2012 presidential election cycle, when Republicans will try to defeat President Barack Obama. Eighty-five votes are needed for victory.
Steele, who shocked many fellow Republicans by deciding to seek a second term, registered some level of public support as the RNC's winter meeting convened this week. But many committee members were keeping their intentions private and several rounds of votes are expected, making it impossible to predict the outcome.
The victor will face an RNC debt $15 million to $20 million or more and demoralized donors who are frustrated with Steele's management.
Among Steele's challengers are:
—Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin Republican Party chairman who ran Steele's chairmanship bid in 2009. He broke with Steele to run against him and has the backing of several GOP insiders. Priebus argues that fixing the RNC's finances is a top priority; critics accuse him of ignoring the money problem when he was close to Steele.
—Maria Cino, a New York native and a veteran party operative who served in the Bush administration and was a top planner of the 2008 Republican nominating convention. She has cast herself as a turn-around specialist when it comes to fixing troubled national party organizations.
—Ann Wagner, a former Missouri state GOP chair who was an RNC co-chairwoman from 2001 to 2005 and was once an ambassador under George W. Bush. She argues that the RNC is broken and needs to completely re-evaluate how it operates.
—Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who lost to Steele two years ago. Savvy with social networking, Anuzis argues that the RNC must be competitive on the technology front to have a chance at toppling Obama.
Steele, the brash former lieutenant governor of Maryland whose tenure has been marked by financial woes and verbal missteps, argues that he should be elected because of the GOP's record of coast-to-coast victories last fall, including winning control of the House, while he was chairman.
He doesn't mention that Republican operatives formed a network of outside groups that adopted traditional national party functions out of a concern about the RNC's ability under Steele to raise money and deploy resources to key races.