The End of the Road for Michael Steele?

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele speaks during a news conference on Republican efforts to stop the Democratic health care legislation, December 14, 2009. Getty Images

michael steele
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele plans to announce in a conference call this evening whether he plans to seek a new term in office.

Multiple sources say Steelewill announce he will not seek another two years at the RNC's winter meeting next month. But no one knows exactly what the unpredictable and controversial chairman will say - and at least one Republican insider says he plans to run again.

Steele has not been making the moves one might expect from someone gearing up for a run: Despite fierce jockeying from others who want his job, he has kept a relatively low profile in recent weeks. While Steele has been working behind the scenes to judge whether he has the votes for a new term, Politico reports that he "has built no known reelection team or structure" for a bid. He may well have concluded he doesn't have the support he needs to win.

Steele's many gaffes as chairman have certainly caused problems for the RNC. Here's quick summary of headline-making moments from his tenure:

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The gaffes certainly hurt Steele's standing among Republicans, and by July GOP kingmaker Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman and current Mississippi governor, was suggestingthe time had come for him to go

Yet Steele might have weathered all this - along with the perception within the GOP that he was a self-promoter putting his interests ahead of his party's - were the RNC able to keep its fundraising dollars flowing.

That was not the case. The cracks started to show in April, when one of the group's top fundraisers walked away. The move came as outside Republican groups such as American Crossroads were gaining increasingly high profiles - groups that would end up taking in a lot of the GOP donations that could otherwise have gone to the RNC. Former unpaid RNC adviser Alex Castellanos said the same month that Steele has "lost the support of a lot of our major donors."

In May, Steele fired his finance director; by the summer, the RNC had revised its budget downwardand cut back on voter mobilization efforts.

Last month, Steele got his first challenger in a potential reelection campaign, Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who stressed he would focus on fundraising and adding, "It is not my goal to be famous."

Four days later, the RNC's political director Gentry Collins, a veteran GOP operative, quit with a letter assailing RNC fundraising under Steele that suggested the group's failings had cost the GOP seats in the midterm elections.

Collins soon jumped into the race to replace Steele; so did Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, perhaps the favorite because he has the support of Henry Barbour, a respected RNC figure who is also Haley Barbour's nephew. Former RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner is also in the race, as is veteran GOP official and lobbyist Maria Cino, who has the backing of the Bush wing of the party. And a source told Politico's Mike Allen that if Steele does indeed get out of the way, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman will also throw his hat in the ring.

All that competition, coupled with everything else, would seem to suggest that Steele is on the way out. But until he formally announces his intentions to RNC colleagues on a closed conference call at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, it's impossible to know for sure. Quipped one top Republican to Allen over the weekend, after the call was announced: "Knowing Michael Steele, this could be to announce that he bought a new suit."


Brian Montopoli is senior political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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