RNC Chair Steele says his own reelection doesn't matter now

The Monitor caught up with Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele on his 'Fire Pelosi Bus Tour.' He dismissed a question about whether he will run for reelection as party chair, saying that voters are more concerned about the November midterms.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Michael Steele, chairman of The Republican National Committee, speaks with Florida Senator Mike Haridopolos, right, during a stop at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Florida on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010 as part of the "Fire Pelosi Bus Tour," which will hit more than100 cities in the United States.

In a Monitor interview Sunday, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele dismissed a question about whether he will run for reelection as party chair in January, saying that voters are more concerned about the November midterms.

“We’ve got a national election that the country’s engaged in,” said Mr. Steele, who has had a rocky tenure as RNC chair since his election in January 2009. “I don’t think anyone’s worried about or concerned about who the RNC chairman is. I think they’re more concerned about who’s representing them in their state capitals and in Washington, so let’s focus on that.”

Steele’s time in office has been marred by financial problems and off-message statements that have focused attention on Steele himself at a time when the party chair’s job is to organize, recruit candidates, and raise money. The chairman has managed to avoid negative headlines of late, though the spotlight is back on Steele with a 48-state, 100-plus-city “Fire Pelosi Bus Tour.”

Steele was speaking to the Monitor at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla., near Orlando, on the fifth day of his tour, which features a bright red motor coach and the words “Need a job? Fire Pelosi!” on the side. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic speaker of the House, is not in danger of losing her House seat, but she could well lose the speaker’s chair, as polls show enough Democratic incumbents could lose in November to hand the majority to the Republican Party.

The Kissimmee stop on the bus tour, the first of nine in Florida on Sunday, was billed as a veterans event. Among the few dozen folks who came to see Steele were veterans advocates, a corps of middle- and high school-age students active in the US Naval Sea Cadets, and Republican activists. On a nearby field, World War II reenactors staged a mock battle; they were not there for the Steele event.

Steele defended the focus on Speaker Pelosi for a six-week bus tour, saying he’s averaged 200-plus people at the rallies, which “tend to be somewhat impromptu” – and also convey the feeling that Steele himself is running for something. An RNC spokeswoman traveling with Steele said the Kissimmee event was closed-press and not meant to be one of the larger rallies.

“Everyone gets it – Obama, Pelosi, and Reid – it’s the entire package,” Steele said, adding the president and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada for good measure. “The reality of it is the people of the country want to move in a different direction. They’ve given the administration, the leadership in Washington, over a year to correct the course, whether it’s on health care, whether it’s on job creation, whether it’s on any number of issues, and they failed to listen.”

“So now this matter is going before the people,” Steele continued. “So whether you’re talking about retiring Harry Reid or firing Nancy Pelosi, the message is the same.”

In a May special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha (D), opponents of the Democratic candidate used a giant Nancy Pelosi figure – a sort of Pelosi-zilla – to try to scare voters. But the Democrat, Mark Critz, won anyway. When reminded of that example, Steele said, “It was a special election. The election that really matters, that’s going to set the case for 2011, is in November.”

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