Spend a few moments at the Capitol Hilton in downtown Washington, the site of this week's Republican National Committee winter meeting, and you learn where the term "lobbying" comes from.

Originally coined as advocates waylaid members of Congress in the lobby of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, the practice is being duplicated by RNC members as they stump for last-minute votes ahead of Friday's elections.

The lobby bar is crowded with idle voters, some gossiping over lunch, all occasionally interrupted by candidates for chairman, co-chairman, treasurer and other offices.

Two candidates for chairman, Michigan GOP chief Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Party chairman Katon Dawson, grabbed Arizona Party chairman Randy Pullen, an undeclared voter and a candidate for treasurer, while this reporter sought Pullen's opinion.

Aides to former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell have overtaken several couches in the back, where they hunched over laptops before heading out to buttonhole undecided voters. Dawson aides huddled for a 2 p.m. staff meeting, while Anuzis volunteers, bedecked in T-shirts and hats bearing their candidate's name, handed out stickers.

A joyous uncertainty reigns among voters who have not chosen their own chairman for 12 years. Voters and aides to candidates all predict a long balloting process, with no clear favorite emerging until the second -- or perhaps even the third -- ballot.

"It is clear that whoever wins is going to need a lot of votes from people who didn't vote for him on the first ballot," said Morton Blackwell, the long-time national committee member from Virginia.

Blackwell, who is backing Ken Blackwell ("Ah, cousin Ken!" the Virginian joked), said he expects choosing a winner to take four ballots, "maybe more."

The overwhelming opinion: Anyone who says they know who will win 85 of the body's 168 votes is probably lying.

As members continue to trickle in -- many were beset by winter travel woes -- the party will really get going. At least three candidates have hospitality suites planned for Wednesday night, and the hotel bar will be hopping.

It's not the Willard, but Gucci Gulch will be alive and well as the RNC comes to town.

-Reid Wilson

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