Steele faces shrunken field in RNC campaign; first debate set for Monday

The field of candidates vying to replace Michael Steele has shrunk ahead of the first full debate of the Republican National Committee chairmanship campaign.

Gentry Collins, a former RNC official, dropped his bid ahead of Monday's debate at the National Press Club. His decision could help concentrate the anti-Steele vote behind one of the remaining four challengers. 

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In his bid for a second term as RNC chairman, Steele faces Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP; Wisconsin Republican Reince Priebus; Ann Wagner, former Missouri Republican Party chairwoman; and Maria Cino, a former Bush administration official.

Many observers give Steele, the committee's first African-American chairman, long odds of retaining his post.

His two-year tenure was marked by several prominent missteps and scandals. Shortly after being elected in January 2009, Steele called abortion an "individual choice" and received criticism for spending lavishly on renovations to his office.

Steele's leadership was questioned again after the committee became embroiled in a spending scandal last spring. Its Federal Election Commission report revealed that an RNC contractor spent $2,000 at a bondage club in Los Angeles.

Cino's camp on Monday announced she had received the backing of Reps. Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.). Their support is largely symbolic, however, as neither can vote in the chairmanship race.

Should Steele win reelection, he'll serve his second term without key aides, including RNC spokesman Doug Heye.

Heye said he planned to leave his job after the winter meeting, which takes place Jan. 12-15.

"At the Winter Meeting, the committee will be electing a Chair and I want to give whomever that might be the opportunity to choose their own staff without any complications," Heye wrote in an e-mail Monday.