The short history of RNC chairmanship debates (the first one was held in 2009) would seem to indicate that this afternoon’s debate won’t matter much; as JP Freire correctly recalls, Michael Steele didn’t exactly set the room on fire in ’09, and he won the race anyway. That said, my quick impressions:
Steele is a dead man walking; many in the room thought he exceeded expectations, but it isn’t going to matter. Reince Priebus, the frontrunner in terms of endorsements, wasn’t impressive at all; he hewed to talking points about keeping the GOP conservative (fairly irrelevant given that the RNC Chair plays almost no role in setting a policy agenda). Maria Cino did the best job of sticking to a set of talking points relevant to the race — as Reid Wilson noted, she brought up the importance of state parties in nearly every answer, telegraphing her fealty to influential state party leaders — but she stumbled when asked about her background as a lobbyist for Pfizer (she denied lobbying for Obamacare, but not all that convincingly). Ann Wagner was personable but seemed a little short on details about what she’d do at the RNC. Saul Anuzis was a little better on that score but not terribly exciting.
A Republican consultant I chatted with after the debate (not an RNC member) suggested the race is likely to come down to either Priebus vs. Wagner or Priebus vs. Anuzis. That seems like a fair prediction. But the stakes now seem much lower; Steele’s gaffe-prone performance over the past two years has no doubt taught everyone who wants the job that the RNC does better with a low-key fundraiser who keeps his or her head down.