Washington (CNN) - A day after Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele confounded his critics by announcing that he will seek re-election, one of his biggest foes threw his weight behind the candidate thought to have the best chance of replacing Steele atop the committee.
Former New Jersey committeman David Norcross, something of a ringleader within the RNC's anti-Steele crowd, co-authored a message Tuesday to the committee's 168 members endorsing Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. The message was co-signed by former Wisconsin committeeman Michael Grebe.
Norcross and Grebe heaped praise on Priebus for his work electing Republicans in Wisconsin and said he proved his mettle nationally while serving as RNC General Counsel under Steele.
"Reince ran one of the best ground operations in the country," they wrote in the email, obtained by CNN. "He stayed true to a conservative message, handled media professionally and raised a great deal of money. Most importantly, Reince is a conservative who gives everything that he does 110%. The RNC needs a Chairman who is dedicated to that principle."
Both men are former RNC general counsels, a position Priebus held until he resigned earlier this month to run for chairman at the urging of a cadre of Steele allies and enemies.
The endorsement is significant because the crop of RNC candidates will be jockeying over the next four weeks to prove themselves as the most viable alternative to Steele, who controls roughly 30-40 votes on the committee. The election, to be held in mid-January, will likely be decided on multiple rounds of balloting.
Norcross' voice carries significant weight among the hard line Steele opponents, and his endorsement should help cement Priebus' stature as the frontrunner to take over the reigns of the committee from Steele. Priebus has already lined up support from several key Steele allies.
Priebus is also thought to have the tacit support of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman, because Barbour's nephew and political adviser, Mississippi committeeman Henry Barbour, is supporting the Wisconsinite. Priebus has also managed to peel off some of Steele's supporters.
Also seeking the chairmanship: Michigan committeeman Saul Anuzis, former Missouri GOP Chairwoman, former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins and former Bush administration official Maria Cino. Norcross, who left the committee earlier this year, was also considering his own bid for a time.
UPDATE: Another committee veteran and Steele critic, Iowa committeeman Steve Scheffler, told CNN Tuesday he is also backing Priebus. The endorsement was first reported by TheIowaRepublican.com
UPDATE 2: Supporters of Ann Wagner were quick to point out that she also picked up a nice endorsement Tuesday, that of Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney.
Devaney is a former Steele ally now changing teams. Devaney called Wagner "the right person for the job, someone who can hit the ground running and start work on retiring the enormous debt and rebuild the political organization at the RNC."
And unlike Norcross, Devaney is an actual voting member of the RNC.