Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is likely to announce he won’t seek a second term in an evening conference call today, according to a Republican committee member close to the matter.
Steele’s tenure, which began in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, has been marked by a series of comments by him that drew criticism and by internal grousing over the committee’s finances, including spending on the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa.
Steele, the committee’s first black chairman, was 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,” he said. “Clearly, the RNC is moving on.”
Doug Heye, a Republican committee spokesman, declined to comment. Steele has organized a conference call for 7:30 p.m. Washington time, during which he is expected to make an announcement.
‘Big, Fat Laugh’
Some Republicans close to the chairman say he is unpredictable and may run after all. “I think somebody is going to have a big, fat laugh,” said committee member Shawn Steel of California, who is close to the chairman.
Pressure has been building on Steele to give up the party chairmanship, as he has been losing support from key allies in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party and Steele’s former legal counsel, announced he would run to lead the national party. Priebus was a key 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.
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.
Criticized by McCain
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.”
The comment is among many that have created controversy during Steele’s chairmanship.
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, Steele said he wanted to apply the party’s principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.” The comment became fodder for comedians and critics given 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.