Amid party drama, Steele talks up GOP’s chances this fall

Holly Bailey

In his first public appearance in several weeks, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele rallied the GOP troops Friday, talking up November electoral prospects after two straight elections producing major losses.

"In less than two years, we have gone from a demoralized super-minority party to a legion of effective shock troops who are on the offense and making Democrats sweat," Steele said in a speech Friday at the RNC's summer meeting in Kansas City. "But we can't rest on a successful race here or a winning message there. Everything we've been doing, all of it, needs to be ramped up and maxed out in the next three months."

Wearing a fire-engine-red baseball cap branded with the phrase "Fire Pelosi," Steele touted the progress the GOP has made in the last 18 months, including gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia. He aimed to fire up Republicans on the eve of what polls suggest will be a very good election for the GOP. But it was also an effort to defend his own rocky tenure as party chairman.But Steele couldn't escape all of the drama that has plagued the party in recent weeks. Just a few weeks ago, RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen accused Steele and his staff of hiding millions of dollars in debt — and that scandal reverberated throughout the annual meeting, both in debates over the party's finances and in turmoil over damaging leaks to the media.

On Wednesday, speaking before a gathering of state party chairs, Steele denounced what he described as the leaking  of "proprietary financial information" — a quote that leaked, ironically, through an anonymous source talking to CNN's Mark Preston and Peter Hamby. The committee in turn drafted a resolution encouraging the RNC's executive committee (essentially the party's board of directors) to investigate who leaked the exchange between Pullen and Steele to the media.

And this latest bout of leak-related accusations and counter-accusations occurred amid more financial drama, with the RNC deciding to take out a $10 million line of credit to make sure the party will be able to back up GOP candidates this fall amid the committee's less than stellar fundraising. Steele told members of the RNC's budget committee that he believes the party will be able to raise as much as $60 million before Election Day, but many Republicans are privately skeptical.