In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Results Are Anyone's Guess As RNC Chair Election Kicks Off

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The first couple rounds of balloting are expected to resolve the question of Steele himself -- his former ally, Reince Priebus has rounded up over 40 public commitments from the committee's 168 members, and if he comes out on top in rounds one or two, there will be pressure on Steele, as the incumbent, to bow out.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Best Boss Ever? Michael Steele & The RNC Interns]

But Steele is thus far vowing to stay on the ballot for as long as it takes -- there's no mechanism to force anybody to drop out, and he could stick around, hoping to play kingmaker as the election winds down.

The question is: if Priebus bests Steele, or Steele bests Priebus, who do the loser's votes fall to?

That's where underdogs Saul Anuzis, Maria Cino, and Ann Wagner enter the equation.

TPM caught up with Anuzis yesterday afternoon in the plush Marlyand resort where the RNC's holding the election, and he handicapped it for us.

"Ballots 2, 3, and 4 will be a function of whether Reince can get to 85," Anuzis said. "The rest of us will have to wait that out. Our race probably doesn't start until the fifth ballot."

The winner of the early rounds could theoretically wrap this thing up before tea time. But if that doesn't happen -- if, say, Priebus sinks as members decide he's just Michael Steele-light -- then it's anybody's guess, and balloting could continue until well into the evening.

"All three of us [Anuzis, Cino, Wagner] have a base of support," Anuzis told me. "All three of us will basically hold that base of support, I think. And the issue will be as Steele and Priebus either make it or don't make it, where do those votes then fall off. And then we'll see which one of the three remainders actually emerges. It could be a race between two of the remainders. It could be one of the remaining candidates versus one of the earlier challengers."

If you're confused, join the club. It's a secret ballot, everyone's spinning and jockeying for position, so there's a lot of hypothesizing and hyperventilating, but really nobody has any idea where things are headed.