Backstage maneuvering begins in wide-open GOP chairman’s race

There’s a race in the Republican Party happening far away from the hot media glare, one that doesn’t involve a candidate named Trump or Twitter fights or violent protests.

In fact, you’ve probably never heard of most of the possible leading contenders.

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It’s the race to succeed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who’s expected to step down in January 2017 after a record six years.

If Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE or another Republican is elected president this fall, the chairman’s contest will probably be a moot point. It’s tradition for the president to handpick the chairman of his own party.

But if Democrats win four more years in the White House, it will trigger an all-out scramble in the race for RNC chairman — a role that involves raising loads of cash and communicating the party’s message.

To win, a candidate needs support from a simple majority of the 168 GOP national committee members, who represent all 50 states, D.C. and some territories.

At the moment, the race is wide open. No one has formally declared their candidacy, but RNC and state GOP officials floated a number of names to The Hill. They include a pair of failed presidential hopefuls, a member of the Romney clan, some state GOP chairmen and several RNC insiders.

What’s certain is that the next RNC chairman will have his or her hands full after an election cycle that saw Doanld Trump turn the Grand Old Party on its head.

“I haven’t a clue” who might run, said former RNC Chairman Michael Steele. “God bless whoever gets the job.”

Here’s The Hill’s early look at who might be the next RNC chairman:

Carly Fiorina, Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersPutting GOP women in Congress Political decency may triumph despite Trump's DACA decision Ryan calls for 'permanent legislative solution' on DACA MORE, Ronna Romney McDaniel

If Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE is elected as the first female president of the United States, Republicans may want to make a woman the face of the GOP.

It’s a strategy the party pursued in 2009 after Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE made history as the first black president; Republicans elected Steele as the first black chairman of the RNC, though Priebus ousted him just two years later.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina fell short in her bid for the White House, but she earned a reputation as a fierce debater who could attack Clinton in ways that most of her male GOP rivals could not.

“Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband,” Fiorina quipped at a debate in January.

Retiring Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE (R-Fla.), who will need a job in January, is another failed presidential candidate who's been floated for the RNC post.

Other women who could be in line for the job include House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the party’s highest-ranking female member of Congress, and Ronna Romney McDaniel, Mitt Romney’s niece who serves as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.

Both declined to comment. Where McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 House Republican, goes next is unclear; she stumbled in her race against Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) for the majority leader spot last fall, exposing some vulnerabilities.

But one House colleague who’s close to the congresswoman said she’d make a strong leader at the RNC. “There are lots of leadership opportunities for her,” the GOP lawmaker said. “RNC chair would be one great option.”

Romney McDaniel isn’t seeking the job, but there are people in the party who’d like to draft her. She has the Romney name and is tapped into the family’s deep political and fundraising network. In 2012, the mother of two chaired the Women for Mitt campaign.

“She’s really not interested at this point,” said a source close to Romney McDaniel. “Her focus is on Michigan and 2016, keeping the majority in the statehouse and turning Michigan red for the first time since George H.W. Bush ... but she never says never.”

Others to watch are Sharon Day, the RNC co-chairwoman under Priebus since 2011, and Susan Hutchison, the Washington state GOP chairwoman and former TV news anchor in Seattle. Before she was elected to Congress, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) unsuccessfully ran for RNC chairman in 2011, but rather than running again she may have her eye on higher office in the Show Me State.

RNC insiders

Matt Pinnell, 36, is considered one of the front-runners for the top RNC job. The former Oklahoma GOP chairman served for several years under Priebus as the RNC’s national state party director.

In that role, Pinnell advises state parties about operations and fundraising, and has frequent contact with the very committee members whose backing he’ll need in an election.

Pinnell declined to comment, but a state GOP chairman close to him said Pinnell very much “fits the profile” of Priebus before he was elected chairman. Priebus previously served as Wisconsin GOP chairman before his appointment as RNC general counsel.

“Pinnell’s getting the most buzz among RNC members,” said one state GOP chairman. “If the election were held today, he’d be prohibitive favorite.”

Two other RNC senior officials also have been mentioned as potential Priebus successors: John Ryder, the RNC’s general counsel, and Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist and communications director.

Ryder, a longtime national GOP committeeman from Tennessee, is known as a policy and procedures wonk, according to RNC officials. While not a huge personality, he has the experience to know how the RNC works.

As the RNC’s top communicator since 2011, Spicer is a familiar face on the cable news circuit. He also has a tremendous understanding of how what’s happening on the campaign trail fits with Capitol Hill; he held roles at both the House and Senate campaign committees, the House GOP conference, and in the George W. Bush administration.

Being a Priebus ally, however, might not be beneficial if the GOP gets routed this November.

“If we go down as a party, I can’t see people running on the Chairman Priebus record,” said one GOP national committeeman. “Those close to chairman might not be seen in a good light.”

State GOP chairmen

Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham, a tech and financial services entrepreneur, said he’s seriously considering a bid for RNC chairman after a number of national committeemen encouraged him to run.

While he said he’s focused on ensuring John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE’s Senate seat stays in the GOP column, Graham has been discussing the RNC post with his wife, five children, foster child and a nephew who lives with his family.   

“I’m considering it, but I would say it’s a family decision,” Graham said in a phone interview.

Two other state GOP chairman — Matt Borges of Ohio and Matt Moore of South Carolina — have also been approached by fellow committeemen, sources said.

With Cleveland in the spotlight for this summer’s GOP convention, Borges, 43, will have plenty of opportunity to shine and make a name for himself. But the former Dick Cheney staffer also could receive some blame if things go terribly wrong or turn violent in a chaotic contested convention.

At 33, Moore is one of the youngest state party chairmen in the country and could appeal to millennial voters. But Moore also has experience in Washington, having served as deputy political director at the Republican Governors Association, a role that also earned him connections around the country.

He also represents an early primary state.

“Friends on the Republican National Committee have approached me about running for chairman next year,” Moore wrote in an email. “I am flattered in their confidence, but believe it’s too early for such discussions given our focus on winning the White House this fall.”