Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's effort to assume greater control over the Republican National Committee is entering a new phase with the emergence of one of his closest advisers as a potential rival to Michael S. Steele for party chairman.
Nick Ayers, the 28-year-old director of the Republican Governors Association, is being promoted as a candidate for Republican National Chairman. Steele's term expires in January, and he's expected to seek re-election for another two years.
An anti-Steele faction within the party has been signaling for some time that the Republican Governors Association meeting this week in San Diego would mark a new phase in their efforts to push an alternative.
Now it's happened. As Politico reports, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the incoming RGA chairman and a potential 2012 presidential contender, made a pitch for Ayers.
"In 2012, the RNC is going to play a very, very important role, so whoever they choose needs to be someone who truly has the ability to represent the party and is a highly capable individual from the standpoint of raising money and organization,' Perry said. 'And I know that Nick Ayers is a very capable young man.' Citing a lesson from the Book of Timothy to boost the 28-year-old Ayers, Perry said RNC committee members ought not 'hold youth against anybody."
Perhaps the biggest hurdle Ayers would face is the fact that he's not a member of the RNC, which is considered an advantage in chairmanship fights. During the 2010 campaign, the RGA was widely credited with attracting millions of dollars from big Republican donors who shunned Steele's RNC.
Barbour, well-remembered within the party for his stint as RNC chairman during the 1990s, is a potential 2012 presidential contender. If he's serious about running, that would rule out a return to the RNC job. His nephew, RNC member Henry Barbour, has been a leader of the anti-Steele faction.
To date, only one candidate has formally announced his candidacy, RNC member Saul Anuzis of Michigan, who lost to Steele two years ago.