From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
After First Read came out with its RNC Chair race survey this morning showing Mike Duncan leading and Michael Steele in second with 20 votes, the Steele campaign contacted First Read about our number.
Steele's team contends it is confident it has 30 members supporting them -- 18 who have publicly declared and another 12 who have pledged their support privately. (First Read was provided with the list of names.)
Jim @!$%#, spokesman for Steele, insisted this is a "two-man race" -- between Steele and Duncan.
"We've got a team of whips who are aggressively working," @!$%# said. "We have a strong second, third ballot component [as well]."
He added that Steele is "constantly talking to people. ... That's why you're starting to see a real momentum swing in his direction."
Steele is not trying to work up an alliance with any candidates, @!$%# said. Instead, he's taking his case directly to the members. (That said, @!$%# added that Steele has maintained a positive message, implying that other candidates should feel comfortable with supporting him on second or third ballot because of it.)
Horse-trading has become an element of this race, with The Hill reporting that Duncan and Ken Blackwell, in particular, were offering staff and resources to state party members in exchange for votes.
But Steele is not making any offers, @!$%# said.
"The problem with horse trading," @!$%# said, "is that if you make one person happy, then you make someone else upset."
@!$%# added that it shouldn't be overlooked that Steele is a former member, and therefore understands the party. While Steele is a former member, he is not currently -- unlike Duncan, South Carolina party chair Katon Dawson or Michigan party chair Saul Anuzis -- which could hurt him, some observers say.
"His ability to focus on improving that relationship [between members and the national party] has been an important selling point," @!$%# said.
With a released endorsement for Duncan and Anuzis earlier today, plus the Steele list, the latest First Read vote tally stands at: Duncan 44, Steele 30, Dawson 18, Blackwell 16, Anuzis 16, Chip Saltsman 1; 43 remain undecided.