Michael Steele, the embattled Republican National Committee chairman, hasn't said if he will seek a second term in January, but plenty of Republicans are lining up to deny him the chance. Four candidates debated each other in front of a Tea Party–filled forum organized by FreedomWorks this Wednesday, and at least four others are considering a run. Here's a look at six of the most likely Republicans to head the RNC for the key 2012 election cycle, whether or not Steele steps down:
1. Mary Cino
Cino, a former deputy RNC chairwoman, has one big gun on her side: Dick Cheney. The former vice president is hosting a party along with former RNC head Ed Gillespie and GOP stalwart Mary Matalin to help Cino raise money for her bid to unseat Steele. And "Cino should be getting establishment support like this," says David Weigel in Slate. "She worked for both Bush presidential campaigns; she worked at a high level for the Bush administration."
2. Norm Coleman
Coleman's name "mysteriously started getting batted around" over the summer, says Nick Pinto in the Minneapolis City Pages, and unlike the other contenders, he isn't "explicitly gunning for Steele's spot." The former Minnesota senator says he'll run only if Steele drops out. "Michael Steele is a friend," he told The Daily Caller. It may not give him a leg up, but Coleman's at least "seriously bringing the Minnesota Nice to backroom Washington politics."
3. Ann Wagner
A former RNC chairwoman and Bush's ambassador to Luxembourg, Wagner was an early entrant into the race. A longtime leader of the Missouri GOP, Wagner was the most organized of the four candidates at the FreedomWorks debate, and she hit "all the right notes," says Dan Riehl in Big Government. "It was a melody of serving up red meat to the mostly conservative audience, while also displaying the type of experience, polish, and sophistication it will take to manage a seemingly struggling RNC."
4. Mike Duncan
The man Steele ousted in 2009 is trying to get his old job back. After the RNC, Duncan founded the Karl Rove–linked GOP fundraising powerhouse American Crossroads, and his strength seems to be money. He's not shy about touting his success, either, says Alex Seitz-Wald in Think Progress. At the FreedomWorks forum, Duncan straight-out said: "Money is the mother’s milk of politics. There is not too much money in politics, there is not enough money."
5. Gentry Collins
Collins entered the race with a bang, quitting his job as RNC political director and accusing Steele of mismanaging the 2010 election. If the RNC had given more money to statewide operations, Collins said, the GOP could have won 21 more House seats and two more Senate seats. His strategy to beat President Obama in 2012, says Slate's Weigel, is to get conservatives to turn out by "making sure anti-'ObamaCare' initiatives were on the ballot."
6. Saul Anuzis
The former head of the Michigan GOP, Anuzis lost to Steele in 2009. He was the first to enter the race this year. A second-generation American, Anuzis "briefly broke into Lithuanian and recounted his grassroots bona fides" at the FreedomWorks forum, says Jonathan Martin in Politico, touting "his time protesting in front of the Soviet embassy." His final pitch: "I've been a movement conservative my entire life."