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Live From The Rnc Chairman Race

I'm over at the Capital Hilton, where weary conservatives are stocking up on coffee between the third and fourth ballots in the Republican National Committee's chairman race. You can check the progress of the balloting's exact numbers on Chris Cillizza's great blog, but the race right now is dominated by Maryland's Michael Steele and the current chair, Mike Duncan, who are locked in competition with about 50 votes each.

It seems crazy Republicans would keep on a CEO with such a record of failure (will they really retain EVERYBODY, from Boehner to McConnell to Duncan?), but one committeemember represented the choice between Steele and Duncan to me as one between charisma and cash. Steele is a friendly, charismatic, omnipresent TV hound who would give the party a fresh new (and black!) face, but his fundraising for his own senatorial race and management of GOPAC is perceived as weak, given how galvanizing he ought to be. Everybody knows Duncan can raise a solid amount of cash, even in tough climates. I think cash concerns underpin Boehner's and McConnell's mystifying reservoir of support, too: Republicans are firmly convinced that a big part of what can bring them back is staying in the fundraising game and not ceding ground to these these five-bucks-a-click Obamanauts, and that desire for dough benefits the incumbent leaders, since they've shown they can buckrake at least passably.

UPDATE: Well, the choice I laid out above is DOA. Duncan withdrew, sunnily, without a drop of regret in his voice.

UPDATE 2: The shadow Obama casts over the Republican Party is long. In a surprisingly heartfelt endorsement of Steele, a fellow African American but hardly a fellow ideological traveler, the very conservative Blackwell called upon Republicans to ignite a "new birth of freedom"--a Lincolnian phrase that Obama has used, as well as Rick Warren at BHO's inauguration.

Overheard: a Katon Dawson helper on the phone, seething that Blackwell "gave up his values and endorsed the moderate and made this about race."

--Eve Fairbanks