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Michael Steele’s In, But Can He Win?

Even as they stood by over the last month and watched five other candidates jump in the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee, the staunchest backers of current chair, Michael Steele, insisted that reports of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. On Monday night, they were partially vindicated.

Steele’s announcement that he was seeking a second term, despite the fact that he had “stumbled along the way” -- his own words -- during his tumultuous two-year term as chairman, took many inside and outside the GOP by surprise.

VIDEO: Steele Will Run Again

Of course, when the 168 members of the RNC vote for chairman next month, Steele could still go down in flames. The vote is a notoriously unpredictable process, and as one long-time RNC insider put it, only half-jokingly, the 168 members will head into the January vote having offered 336 pledges of support.

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While other candidates may bring their own baggage, it’s already clear that Steele is going to have to spend most of his time over the next month defending his record as chairman. In an interview last night on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News show, Steele took pains to defend the fact that the RNC has far less money in the bank now than it did when he took the reins of leadership in 2009. (The Committee is ending the year with millions of dollars in unpaid bills.)

“We spent a lot of money,” in the last election cycle, he told Van Susteren. “You can’t look at it in terms of where you begin and where you end. We’re talking two different periods.”

If those questions seemed to throw Steele off his game somewhat, they are child’s play compared to the kinds of critiques he is about to receive (and already has) from members of the committee and rival candidates.

Already one of those candidates, Maria Cino, a veteran of the Bush administration who ran the 2008 Republican National Convention, lashed out last night at the party’s “massive debt, outdated technology, diminished donor support, and a non-existent voter registration program,” saying that the RNC needs a leader who can “raise and responsibly manage the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to win in 2012.”

Others in the running include Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan GOP; Ann Wagner, former head of the Missouri Republican Party; Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party and the RNC’s former general counsel; and Gentry Collins, the RNC’s former political director.

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