RNC Chair Steele Says Party Should `Chill Out' on Palin's Rise

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, embracing former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s ability to galvanize voters, urged the Republican Party establishment to “chill out.”

“You know, in the words of Bill Clinton, I feel her pain, you know?” Steele said in an interview on “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television. “My goal -- and I know Sarah’s goal has been -- let’s take the party and put it on the streets.”

Steele, who said he will decide soon whether to try to stay on as party chairman, countered criticism from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. The chairman of the Republican Governors Association said on election night that his group and other wings of the party had to “scramble around” this election cycle to raise more money because the RNC wasn’t doing enough.

“He’s just flat-out wrong and he knows it,” Steele said.

Steele said Barbour is ignoring the donor limits the RNC operated under while raising a total of $185 million in the entire two-year election cycle. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says the RNC raised $170.3 million through Oct. 13, while the RGA raised $89.5 million.

“I appreciate the governor’s position,” Steele said. “But Governor Barbour can raise unlimited cash for the RGA. I’m limited by campaign finance laws to $30,000 max from any one donor.”

Democratic Fundraising

The Democratic National Committee took in $195.3 million, out-raising the RNC for the first time since the 1992 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, the RNC raised $428 million and the DNC $260 million.

Steele, who stopped short of endorsing Palin in any campaign for president, also said that prominent Republicans such as Barbour and Republican fundraiser Karl Rove -- who has suggested Palin may not be taken seriously enough by voters to run for president -- haven’t shown enough appreciation for grassroots politics and taking on institutions.

“You’ve seen their reactions to various things, how they, you know, talk about the RNC and what we’re doing. We got on a bus and went out to the country, because that’s where the party needs to be. It doesn’t need to be stuck here in D.C. talking to each other and talking amongst itself.

“That’s why you saw such a rise of grassroots activism, from Tea Partiers and so forth, over the last year, because political structures stop listening,” he said, adding that Palin’s ability “in terms of galvanizing our ground game, galvanizing our troops, moving people to actions -- that’s a very powerful force in politics.”

Hefty Credit

Steele said the RNC can claim hefty credit in the outcome of elections Nov. 2 that handed his party control of the House. The RNC targeted 118 House races in the election, he said.

“I think (it was) a fairly big role,” Steele said. ‘I’ve always referred to us as the Marines in politics. We go where no one wants to go and do what no one else can do.”

Steele said the party’s gains in state legislatures and governor’s races this week also will leave Republicans well- positioned in the pivotal process of redrawing congressional district boundaries for 2012 based on the 2010 Census.

With more legislatures controlled by Republicans next year, he said, the party will have control over redistricting in an additional 196 of the House’s 435 districts.

“You’re looking at solidifying the gains we made on Tuesday and probably adding potentially another 10, 15 or so seats,” Steele said.

Republicans picked up at least 60 House seats in the Nov. 2 election, the biggest gain for their party since 1938, and Tea Party-endorsed candidates accounted for 28 of those pickups, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The party needed a gain of 39 seats to take control of the chamber from Democrats.

The party added six seats in the Senate, short of the 10 needed to take that chamber.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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