WASHINGTON -- The first round of voting for the new Republican National Committee chairman is over and the winner is... no one yet.
None of the five candidates in the race got the 85 votes necessary to win a majority of the 168 RNC members on the first ballot. Incumbent chairman Mike Duncan, favored to win the first round easily, barely fended off a strong second-place showing by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, which doesn't bode well for Duncan's chances of holding onto his job.
The results of the first round: Duncan 52, Steele 46, South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson 28, Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis 22, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell 20. (Former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip "Barack the Magic Negro" Saltsman didn't get enough support to be nominated.)
Unlike in reality TV, the loser doesn't get dropped automatically, so Blackwell can remain on the ballot as long as he wants. The RNC just took a 15 minute recess to let members negotiate over shifting their votes, and they'll have another round soon. The buzz is that Steele's support is surging, and if he can consolidate some votes from the lower-tier candidates, he could be in good shape.
The voting process isn't exactly high tech. Members have to write the full names of their choice on a sheet of paper; apparently the RNC doesn't believe in pre-printed ballots. At one point during the first round, the presiding officer chided the voters: "Look, if you have a ballot out there and you messed it up, and you're destroying it, you need to let us know, okay?" And the scene at the Capital Hilton, a few blocks up 16th Street from the White House, is pure political wonkery -- the TVs in the hotel bar are all tuned to C-SPAN, and the sound is turned up to levels usually reserved for the Super Bowl.