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RNC Contenders Lining Up Against Steele

Chairman Hasn’t Said He’ll Seek Second Term

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Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele hasn’t had the smoothest tenure leading the party. Contenders are lining up with criticism as they seek to replace him.

Updated: 7:27 a.m.

Correction Appended

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele would be very lucky to keep his job after the RNC’s mid-January meeting. As Steele continues to waver on whether he’ll run for re-election, candidates for the RNC chairmanship are building up their own images by drawing a contrast with his.

Steele’s reputation for disorganization, gaffes and media scrutiny, problems with fundraising and shaky conservative credentials have led to a practical mutiny among much of the committee’s membership, the 168 Republicans who will choose the next chairman. On Wednesday afternoon, the 26-member Republican National Conservative Caucus and the tea-party-affiliated FreedomWorks will fire the opening shot, convening a panel of potential candidates for Steele’s job at the Washington Hilton. Steele was invited but had given no signal that he planned to attend.

The next RNC chairman will be the voice for Republicans across the country, lay the groundwork for the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, oversee the party’s national efforts in redistricting and help the four states with off-year elections. But the new leader’s influence may be short-lived: The future GOP presidential nominee will become the de facto head of the party and could install his or her own team. 

On Tuesday, Republican Members of Congress mostly avoided the question of whether Steele should continue.

“I think it’s very important to have a conversation about what the RNC is doing right and what it’s doing wrong,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) told Roll Call between floor votes.

Since his party won back the House, picked up six Senate seats and made massive gains in state Houses and governorships last month, two bombs have dropped on Steele. The first was political director Gentry Collins’ resignation letter, which laid out problems at the committee since Steele took charge in 2009. Collins has since said he’s considering running for chairman and will attend Wednesday’s panel. The second was the revelation that the committee has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the 2012 convention to be held in Tampa, Fla., in August 2012 and that Steele may be considering a deal to leave his current job to run the convention.

Those blows, coming at the end of a rocky two years at the helm, have left Steele in a weak position if he decides to run again. An Associated Press poll of 51 of the 168 RNC members found that 39 preferred that Steele not run again. 

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