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Ex-ambassador Wagner takes 1st steps for RNC chair

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DAVID A. LIEB | November 19, 2010 05:50 PM EST | AP

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ann Wagner, an ambassador during the Bush administration, has taken the first steps toward challenging Michael Steele for leader of the Republican Party.

Wagner, who was co-chairwoman of the RNC from 2001 to 2005, has been meeting with RNC members to gauge her potential support and "is taking a very serious look at this," Republican consultant John Hancock said Friday. It's still unclear whether Steele will seek another two-year term.

Hancock filed IRS paperwork creating the "Ann Wagner For RNC" committee Thursday and listing her as a candidate. But Hancock said Wagner has made no final decision and was not available for comment Friday because she was attending a funeral in Washington, D.C.

Despite general Republican success in the November elections, Steele has come under criticism from some Republicans for his management of the national party. Earlier this week, RNC political director Gentry Collins resigned while releasing a letter blasting Steele for depleting the RNC's finances and spending as much as 70 percent of its donations on fundraising efforts.

RNC member Saul Anuzis of Michigan, who lost a bid for the chairmanship two years ago, announced last week that he will again run for the top spot. The Republican National Committee is to elect its chairman in January.

Wagner served this past election cycle as co-chairwoman of Rep. Roy Blunt's successful U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri and was ambassador to Luxembourg under former President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. Wagner also was chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party from 1999 until her ambassadorship appointment.

"The people who work most closely with the national committee believe that a new direction would be helpful for the party," said Hancock, who was executive director of the Missouri Republican Party from 1997 to 2004. "Why Ann Wagner? Because her skill sets are really a perfect match for what is desperately needed.