Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said he will seek a second term, shrugging off criticism that he lacks enough support to win.
“Our work is not done, and my commitment has not ended,” Steele said in a statement e-mailed to committee members after a private conference call last night during which he announced his decision.
Steele’s re-election bid sets up a battle over who will steer the party’s efforts in the 2012 presidential campaign. His term expires in January, when the committee will vote on the next chairman.
Several other contenders have announced they are running to lead the party amid criticism that Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, has failed to direct a robust fundraising effort and been prone to verbal gaffes during his two-year term.
In the statement, Steele defended his record, while acknowledging he has made mistakes. “I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings,” the statement said. “No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda.”
Steele added, “Who you elect as our next chairman will speak volumes about our willingness to truly be the party of Lincoln.”
Steele, who was elected shortly after President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, is the organization’s first black chairman and had been selected to help recast his party’s image after two cycles of major Republican losses at the ballot box.
“Steele got elected because we wanted a great communicator to put up against their great communicator,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist. “What we needed was a great manager.”
In his statement, Steele pledged to “dramatically increase” fundraising for the 2012 cycle by stepping up collections from small donors.
He said more than 1 million people have given so far this year, more than in the last midterm cycle. The average gift has been $39.98, he said. He acknowledged that the RNC has lost a “significant number” of former major donors to other groups led by former chairmen and said he is working to win them back.
Pressure has been building on Steele to give up the party chairmanship as he lost support from key allies in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party and Steele’s former legal counsel, said he would run to lead the national party. Priebus was a Steele ally, and his candidacy would likely peel support away from a re-election bid. He has the backing of Henry Barbour, a nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman.
In November, Republican political director Gentry Collins resigned with a letter criticizing Steele’s management of the national committee, saying fundraising failures led to some close Republican losses in the last election.
A handful of other contenders have already announced their bids, including Maria Cino, a former official under President George W. Bush who has the backing of former national party Chairman Ed Gillespie and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Others include former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis and Ann Wagner of Missouri, a former RNC co- chairwoman. Norm Coleman, a former Minnesota senator, is also considering a bid.
Scorned Over Statements
Steele has drawn fire from within the party for several of his public statements.
In July, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, criticized as “wildly inaccurate” a comment by Steele that the conflict in Afghanistan, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “was a war of Obama’s choosing.”
In an interview with GQ magazine in 2009 Steele called abortion an “individual choice,” sparking an outcry among the Republican Party’s social conservative base. Steele later clarified that he was anti-abortion.
Shortly after he was elected, he said he wanted to apply the party’s principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.” The comment became fodder for comedians and critics given that the Republican Party didn’t have a single black member in the House or Senate at the time.
Steele also faced criticism after financial reports showed the party paid almost $2,000 for meals at a West Hollywood, California, nightclub that features topless dancers.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org