WASHINGTON (CNN) – Voting to elect to the new chairman of the Republican National Committee is now underway at the party’s annual Winter Meeting, but none of the five candidates received the 85-vote majority needed to win after the first round of balloting Friday.
As expected, incumbent chairman Mike Duncan emerged as the leader after the first round with 52 votes, but that tally is lower than many committee members expected and it may be difficult for Duncan to maintain committee support after his showing.
Michael Steele, the former Maryland Lt. Gov., beat expectations by earning 46 votes, a total that puts him in a strong position as the balloting moves to a second round. There were suprised cheers in the meeting room as Steele’s total was announced.
South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson finished third with 28 votes, followed by Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, with 22.
Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell finished the round with 20 votes, a better than expected showing. Blackwell supporters are clearly aware of their candidate’s underdog position. Before the vote, they distributed a flier noting that it took former RNC chairman Jim Nicholson six ballots to win the chairmanship in 1997.
Voting began shortly after 11:30 a.m., as the 168 committee members shuffled to the front of their meeting hall in single file order to drop their orange secret ballots into a box, a process they will likely repeat several times throughout the day as the field is narrowed.
Mike Duncan: 52
Michael Steele: 46
Katon Dawson: 28
Saul Anuzis: 22
Ken Blackwell: 20
(Updated 12:20 with additional information)