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GOP Chairman Steele may make re-election plans known

WASHINGTON — Embattled GOP Chairman Michael Steele could disclose late Monday whether he’ll seek re-election to the two-year post as a stream of challengers line up to challenge him in balloting next month.

The latest to formally announce a candidacy: Maria Cino, a New York native who served in the Bush administration and planned the party’s 2008 nominating convention. “We need to turn our party around to reach its full potential,” she said in a weekend letter to the 168-member Republican National Committee.

Steele’s first term expires in January, and the committee must then vote on who should run the party’s national operation during the 2012 presidential election cycle.

With Democrats facing a headwind amid high unemployment, Republicans scored huge victories up and down the ballot in November. Even so, since then, Steele has watched his once strong support within the RNC rank and file all but evaporate following a tenure marked by allegations of financial mismanagement and verbal missteps.

Publicly, Steele has defended himself while criticism mounted of his stewardship of the party’s national operations. Privately, he has been weighing whether to seek a second term.

He sent an e-mail late Saturday to committee members asking them to join him on a private conference call late Monday. He didn’t disclose the subject matter. But GOP officials expect that he may announce whether he will run for re-election.

Republican insiders privately speculate that Steele will bow out of the race.

But the chairman is extraordinarily unpredictable.

He was at work at RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill on Monday, and even some of his closest advisers profess no idea of what he will say on the conference call.

Among others seeking the post or seriously considering a bid: Gentry Collins, who headed the RNC’s political department under Steele; Saul Anuzis, a committeeman from Michigan who lost to Steele in the 2009 chairman’s race; Reince Priebus, chairman of Wisconsin’s GOP; Ann Wagner, a former Missouri state GOP chair and a former ambassador; and Kentucky committeeman Mike Duncan, who was an RNC chairman under President George W. Bush.