Some supporters of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele are privately urging him to consider a graceful exit strategy, sources told The Washington Times, as RNC members prepare for Friday's showdown vote on who will lead the party for the next two years.

Steele, who has vowed to fight to the bitter end in the fierce five-way contest, has some 28 votes publicly committed to him among the 168-member RNC — compared with the 41 votes claimed by Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, the presumed front-runner.

The two men are locked in a battle with three other Republicans for the right to head the GOP's top fundraising and candidate-assistance body through the next year's presidential election. The RNC will play a key role in the campaign as the party organ legally permitted to raise money for get-out-the-vote drives at the state level.

It is widely believed among RNC members that Steele actually has as many as 20 more supporters on the committee who will at least give him their first-ballot votes — bringing his total to about 50, still some 35 votes short of the 85 needed to win.

But incumbents tend to fare poorly if they don't win right out of the chute.

Kentucky RNC member Mike Duncan, for example, led Steele 52-46 on the first ballot in Duncan's bid to hold onto his RNC chairmanship in January 2009. But he dropped to a 48-48 tie with Steele on the second ballot and trailed him by 44-51 on the third ballot. Duncan then dropped out of the five-way race, which Steele won on the sixth ballot.

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