RNC Chairman Michael Steele Faces Opposition to Second Term

BY David Chalian  November 10, 2010 at 8:21 AM EST

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

That didn’t take long.

A week after Republicans were swept to power in the House of Representatives and in statehouses across the country, party insiders are beginning to fret publicly about Michael Steele’s desire to seek another two-year term as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post was first to report the news of Mississippi committeeman Henry Barbour’s efforts to recruit a Steele ally inside the RNC — Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus — to challenge Steele at the leadership elections in January as the party prepares to take on President Obama in 2012.

“Estimates of Steele’s strength within the committee vary but there is a general consensus that he has between 50 to 60 solid votes. He would need 85 votes to win,” reports Cillizza.

The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg follow on Thursday with a look at the maneuverings to oust Steele:

“The moves against Mr. Steele are a result of a perception that has been developing for months among the party’s seasoned political hands in Washington. His critics say Mr. Steele has performed poorly at the helm. They argue that his fund-raising was lackluster and point to comments he made that at times proved distracting and were at odds with Republican orthodoxy, as when he said the war in Afghanistan was ‘not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.’

“As Henry Barbour put it, ‘There’s just too much at risk in the next cycle not to make a change.’”

Steele concedes that he was less focused on tapping high dollar donors — the traditional priority for a national party chairman — than he was on trying to build a grassroots network of support in the states. The care and funding of state parties may have some appeal among the 168 members of the RNC who will choose the next chairman in January, but Steele’s abilities to infuse get-out-the-vote operations with needed cash were limited due to less than stellar fundraising at the national level.

Should he seek a second term, Steele can also point to the scoreboard showing major Republican gains up and down the ballot while he was at the helm of the party.

THE COUNT CONTINUES

The tallying of write-in ballots in the Alaska Senate race is set to begin Wednesday with Sen. Lisa Murkowski hoping to get enough of those 92,528 votes to eclipse Republican nominee Joe Miller.

Miller currently stands at 81,195 votes, or 11,333 behind the write-in total, after some 27,000 absentee ballots were counted Tuesday. The tallying helped Miller make up about 2,100 votes on the write-in total.

About 12,400 additional absentee ballots still need to be counted.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that elections officials intend to go ahead with counting the write-in ballots despite Miller’s contention in a federal lawsuit that the state should not be able to judge the intent of the voter if the person wrote something other than “Murkowski.”

Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney told the Daily News that Miller’s campaign was “trying to discount as many votes as possible from Alaskans.”

Both campaigns have hired attorneys in anticipation of a legal fallout from the ballot-counting process.

LOOKING FORWARD

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania: six states President Obama won in 2008 that to varying degrees are critical to his re-election chances in 2012.

In the final days of the midterm campaign, Democratic firm Public Policy Polling collected data in those states and released the results Wednesday.

President Obama leads a generic Republican opponent in three reliably blue states: 51-44 in California; 50-42 in Connecticut; and 49-45 in Illinois.

But the president trails in the three toss-up states: 45-50 in Colorado; 40-54 in New Hampshire; and 42-52 in Pennsylvania.

The accompanying press release offers President Obama some reassurance. “The president can take heart, however, that these results come among the significantly more Republican electorate that turned out to vote against his party a week ago than the voters he will ask to re-up him for another four years,” the statement reads.

PPP also polled potential Republican nominees in the same six states, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee appearing strong across the board, and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also competitive.

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