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September 22, 2010

Michael Steele: On the bus or off the bus?

With midterm elections looming, and control of Congress up for grabs, attention is rightly focused on the men and women running for the House and Senate (and governorships, too).

That has allowed embattled Republican National Chairman Michael Steele to largely slip below radar. Last we looked, he'd left town on a posh (red, naturally) tour bus with "Fire Pelosi" painted on the side.

Meantime, Republican insiders who never warmed to Maryland's former lieutenant governor as party leader continue to sharpen their knives. They've been dejectedly tracking disappointing fundraising numbers coming out of the RNC and plotting Steele's ouster when his current term ends in January.

The latest monthly figures show the Democratic National Committee pulled in more than twice as much money as the Rs ($16.17 million to $7.95 million) during August. Yes, the Dems have an incumbent president to attract cash, and new Republican funding channels have sprung up, allowing disaffected donors to bypass the RNC.

Still, Steele has managed to aggravate the situation. He's pumped national money into local efforts that his critics see, in part, as a campaign to boost his re-election as chairman. Jeff Zeleny has a piece in the New York Times on the impact of the RNC strategy.

Steele didn't help himself by slipping away recently to the South Pacific to attend to his RNC base (RNC members from the island territories are generally thought to have provided the crucial margin in his upset victory in last year's chairman's race).

Weak fundraising numbers, staff turmoil at Republican headquarters in Washington and a stream of self-inflicted verbal blunders have weakened Steele's grip on his job. That he could still get another two year stint, and the honor of presiding over the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa, is largely a reflection of the peculiar dynamics of internal party politics, rather than a mature verdict on his performance.

It's also why the results of the Nov. 2 election are so crucial to Steele. They're his last hope for keeping his job.

His future as a party leader is merely a sideshow, but if Republicans were to fall short and Democrats somehow managed to retain control of Congress, it would likely mark the end of Steele's career in national politics.

Posted by Paul West at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

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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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