Previewing today's RNC chair voting, the AP's Sidoti writes, "Republicans say it's all but certain no one will get a majority on the first ballot when the 168-member RNC votes. Republicans say Duncan leads in endorsements for a second two-year term, with Steele, Dawson and Anuzis in competitive positions, while Blackwell trails. Still, with at least two rounds of balloting expected, it's possible anyone could end up with a majority."
The Hill's Reid Wilson also curtain-raises today's vote: Mike Duncan is likely to lead on first ballot "with most rivals expecting him to score more than 50 votes, but fewer than 60. His challenge, many say, is keeping his coalition together beyond the first two ballots, and demonstrating that he is able to pick up voters who didn't write down his name the first time. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is likely to finish second on the first ballot. The charismatic GOPAC chairman has released more public supporters than any other candidate this week. But Steele will have to overcome concerns raised about his conservative credentials, which have been questioned by other prominent committee members. Steele also faces a challenge of not having served on the committee for several years, which could be an issue for some members who want to select one of their own."
Katon Dawson is expected to finish third, but he is hurt by his membership in what was until recently an all-white country club; Saul Anuzis is expected to be fourth with around 20 votes and "is a second choice of many committee members, given his tenure on the committee, but Anuzis has enemies as well, many of whom question whether his reliance on Web-based social networking applications are really the answer to the party's woes. Anuzis is also without an obvious ideological home, and though he has friends in all camps, there are fewer members as passionate about his candidacy as they are about other candidates. Though Ken Blackwell has fervent support, he's likely to finish last with about 15 votes.
Meanwhile, "Chip Saltsman, … who came under fire late last year for distributing a holiday CD with the parody song 'Barack the Magic Negro,' dropped out of the contest Thursday on the eve of the vote," the New York Times says. Mr. Saltsman, a former Tennessee Republican chairman, sent an e-mail message to members of the Republican National Committee announcing his decision. The message made no mention of why he was leaving the race, but Republicans have said for days that he was struggling to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot."