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April 6, 2010

Updated: Steele Off Message, Anderson Gone

Perhaps no one, other than Bob Ehrlich, did more to advance Michael Steele's national career than Maryland strategist Curt Anderson. That makes the Crofton consultant's decision this week to cut his ties with Steele particularly stunning.

Curt and his brother Wes Anderson run a highly regarded Republican media consulting shop, On Message Inc. They crafted the memorable 2006 campaign commercials that featured Senate candidate Steele and a cute Boston Terrier, The ads were bright spots in a losing effort and drew national attention for their creativity. (Click on the above example)

Curt Anderson went on to play a central role in Steele's upset campaign for Republican National Chairman last year. His firm was rewarded with more than $480,000 in RNC work under Steele.

But Monday's departure of Steele's chief of staff, Ken McKay, was apparently the final straw for Anderson, who took the highly unusual step of renouncing further business with Steele's RNC. He did not immediately respond to messages left at his office and on his cellphone.

Anderson was instrumental in bringing McKay on board at party headquarters last year. At the time, the hiring of McKay was seen as a reassuring sign, especially by those who doubted that Steele was up to the job and were wondering if he would even be able to attract first-rate help.

In a statement, Anderson called McKay's departure "a huge loss for the Republican Party.” Anderson said McKay had "steered the party through very successful elections last fall that have given us tremendous momentum. He’s a great talent."

Anderson went on to say: "Given our firm’s commitments to campaigns all over the country we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC. We have high personal regard for the Chairman and always have; we wish him well.”

The severing of relations with Steele's RNC by Anderson was surprising--not only the decision to forgo a lucrative client but what seemed to be a clear vote of no confidence by one of those who helped make Mike Steele.

A Republican insider said that Anderson "checked out" because he "decided there is nothing he could do about the guy." He said that "Curt was getting in Steele's face" and Steele was increasingly resistant to his advice.

The insider noted that Alex Castellanos, another leading strategist who was brought in as a special adviser, similarly walked away from Steele.

They have been replaced by what this Republican termed "a team of enablers," including veterans of Steele's 2006 Maryland campaign.

At the same time, this Republican--a former party official who spoke on condition of anonymity--said that Steele was justified in replacing McKay because the problems at RNC headquarters--including the party's budget deficit and spending embarrassments--are the staff chief's direct responsibility.

Steele had indicated that he was taking steps to shake up the administration at party headquarters following the recent disclosure of nearly $2,000 in party funds spent at a West Hollywood topless club.

McKay's departure was cast in that light. His replacement as Steele's top aide, Mike Leavitt, ran Steele's 2006 Senate campaign in Maryland. The latest top spokesman for the RNC (a challenging post under Steele) is Doug Heye, also a longtime Maryland associate. Steele and the RNC have yet to respond to Anderson. After McKay's departure became known, Steele told party leaders that he had dumped his top aide.

"Leadership requires that I can safely assure you, our donors, and the American people that our mission is what drives every dollar we spend, every phone call we make, every email we send and every event we organize,” Steele said in the email, first obtained by Politico. “Recent events have called that assurance into question and the buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in my management team and why I am confident about going forward to November with renewed focus and energy.”

The firing made the news just one day before Ehrlich was scheduled to announce his third run for governor of Maryland. It was Ehrlich's decision to tap Steele, a party activist who never held elective office before, as his running mate that propelled the Prince George's County Republican into the job of lieutenant governor.

Now, Ehrlich risks having Steele's widely publicized troubles overshadow his kickoff events. Certainly, Maryland Democrats are doing all they can to help that happen.

In an email Tuesday morning, Isaac Salazar, the state Democratic Party's communications director, suggested six questions for reporters to ask Ehrlich.

Number one: "What do you think of the job Michael Steele is doing at the RNC? Have you asked your Lt. Gov. to campaign for you?"

Posted by Paul West at 10:35 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Michael Steele


Ehrlich's gonna have some fun being reminded of his friends Michael Steele and Jack Abramoff. You are known by the company you keep.

Don't forget that Erlich is best buddies with that crook Marvin Mandel. Birds of a feather.

Perhaps no one, other than Bob Ehrlich, did more to advance Michael Steele's---what a joke! Ehridence would have never won had he not played the race card as a way of garnering the AA vote. Let's see what card he plays now

Cute title, but very misleading. I suggest your gratuitous tile is off-message. Typical Sun democrat party water-toting rag.

no Joe Steffan to dangle shiny objects in front of the press this time around either.

@Free State Blue - M. Steele and J. Abramoff never shafted the people of Maryland even a fraction as much as M. O'Malley, M. Busch, M. Miller.

@ STEVEG8.... and for some reason, that statement.... you feel..... justifies... what, exactly?

That is well known that money makes people free. But how to act if somebody has no cash? The one way is to try to get the loan or just college loan.

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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