Updated with Fonalledas's endorsement, updated again for clarification
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno will support Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus for chairman of the Republican National Committee, marking the fortieth public endorsement for Priebus and setting him up as the clear front-runner going into Friday's election.
Priebus is far ahead of his competitors, including incumbent chairman Michael Steele, according to The Hotline's latest whip count. The winning candidate will have to secure 85 of the 168 total votes in order to claim a win.
Steele has at least 17 votes, though others have reportedly said they will back the incumbent. Former RNC co-chairman Ann Wagner has 15 votes, after winning support from Puerto Rico national committeewoman Zori Fonalledas; Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis has 14 public commitments; and former Bush administration official Maria Cino has 12 public backers.
"Reince's track record as chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin is exemplary, and an example of what the RNC chairman's office should strive to attain," Fortuno said in an email to RNC members announcing his support.
Fortuno's and Fonalledas's endorsements are significant for several reasons, not least of which because Fortuno is the only incumbent governor serving on the RNC. In 2009, Fortuno, Fonalledas and the 16 other delegates from Hawaii and the nation's island territories voted en masse for Steele, giving him a big group of supporters that proved overwhelming. But this year, island delegates have sent hints they will not stand with Steele, undermining his coalition and, several months ago, casting serious doubt on his ability to win a second two-year term.
The two Puerto Rican delegates are the first island delegate to say publicly they will back someone other than Steele. But it is little secret that at least some other island representatives plan to back another candidate as well. Steele still enjoys the public support of most of the island members.
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