Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has lost a staunch ally in his bid for a second term as another contender continues racking up support and momentum.
On Sunday, California national committee member Shawn Steel made public his decision to back Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus. The Californian had been a key member of Steele's kitchen cabinet and one of the incumbent chairman's top defenders.
The defection, rumored for a week, is seen as a major blow to Steele's dwindling re-election hopes.
"There is no path to victory for Michael Steele that does not include Shawn," said Ron Kaufman, an influential committee member from Massachusetts who has not committed to backing a candidate but who has frequently clashed with Steele. "To most on the committee he was clearly [Steele's] biggest supporter. His defection leaves no one left to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic."
Priebus is another former top Steele ally, but he has downplayed his connection to the chairman as he seeks the top job himself. In an email announcing support from Steel and three other RNC members, Priebus again brought up what members see as the incumbent's divisive tenure.
"I'm proud to be gathering endorsements from all perspectives within the Committee because it demonstrates my desire and ability to end the drama within the RNC, redouble our major donor fundraising efforts and devise a plan in partnership with state parties to ensure victory in 2012," Priebus wrote in a Sunday night email to committee members.
Along with Steel, Priebus also announced support from Oklahoma national committee member James Dunn, Oklahoma party chairman Matt Pinnell and Nebraska national committee member Pete Ricketts. The new supporters give Priebus 22 public commitments -- a quarter of the way toward the 85 votes he would need to win.
Steele has 12 public commitments, according to The Hotline's RNC Whip Count. Former Michigan party chairman Saul Anuzis and former RNC co-chairman Ann Wagner each have 10 votes, while former Bush administration official Maria Cino counts five public supporters and former RNC political director Gentry Collins has three votes. 106 voters remain undecided.