In a move that seemed to surprise Washington insiders, beleaguered Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele announced his intention to run for re-election despite a rocky first term.

After weeks of silence – and a growing clamor for his ouster among allegations of financial mismanagement and frequent verbal gaffes over the past two years – Steele alerted the 168-member Republican National Committee during an evening conference call Dec. 13 that he would run, according to an Associated Press report.

“Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda,” Steele told the committee, according to a text of his remarks he e-mailed to RNC members afterward. “Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term.”

Republican strategist and pollster David E. Johnson, who worked for the Bob Dole campaign, said he was puzzled by the decision given the waning support for the RNC’s first African-American chairman, who was chosen almost three months after Barack Obama was elected as the first Black president. “But then nothing Steele does surprises me,” he said.

Johnson then added about Steele’s possible motive, “He was angry at the growing chorus of people who wanted him to go and he figured this is the way to get back at everybody.”

Black Republican strategist Raynard Jackson said he thought the former Maryland lieutenant governor would “fade into the sunset,” but said this re-election bid enlivens the January contest to decide who should run the party’s national operations during the 2012 presidential election cycle.

“It was a ho-hum race before he joined. Now, he’s the Obama. He’s creating the buzz now – both negative and positive,” Jackson told the AFRO.

Among the candidates vying for the GOP helm are Maria Cino, a New York native who served in the Bush administration and planned the party’s 2008 nominating convention, and Gentry Collins, who headed the RNC’s political department under Steele.

Others in the mix include: Saul Anuzis, a committeeman from Michigan who lost to Steele in the 2009 chairman’s race; Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin Republican chairman, and Ann Wagner, a former Missouri state Republican chair and a former ambassador.

Like previous RNC chairs, those candidates are “insiders,” Jackson said, while Steele has always been an outsider. And that – in addition to his brash style and unconventional ways – irked many among the party establishment. “He’s that crazy ‘Uncle Larry’ that speaks his mind,” said Ronald Bell, 29, a national church consultant and Black Republican from Dover, Del. “Yeah, it will be his downfall but only because the culture of those people who are accustomed to a docile, quiet conservative way of thinking.”

Bell, a Maryland native, said Steele’s tendency to not stay on message “scares to death” but he believes it’s a good thing. “His ability to push, challenge and change and not be controlled or contained has turned the Republican Party in a different direction than it has been in a while.”

Brandon Cooper, 22, the 2010-’11 chairman of the Howard University College Republicans, agreed, saying he is “excited” by Steele’s decision to run again.

“We need someone who is ready to change things. The Republican Party has been static for the past few years,” he said. Cooper added that in addition to change, Steele has also brought success during his tenure. “I don’t know how anyone can deny that the RNC has had an excellent year as far as results.”

In 2009, Steele’s first year, the GOP secured three unexpected victories – the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia and a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. In the 2010 mid-term elections, Capitol Hill Republicans gained 63 new representatives to take control of the House and 13 new senators. And across the nation, the party gained 690 new state legislators and several governors. These wins give Steele significant bragging rights, Jackson said.

“There are two roles of a chairman – to raise money and to win elections. And, if that’s your standard, Michael gets an ‘A,’” he told the AFRO.

Johnson contends, however, that those wins were “despite Michael Steele.” And while he came with “a lot of promise” – including the expectation among many that he would serve as a lightning rod to attract more minorities – he did not deliver. “We didn’t really see the concentrated effort in courting African-American voters people expected … he ignored Hispanics,” the political strategist added.

Even Steele’s Black supporters agree that he didn’t do enough to build a minority coalition. “The weakness Michael has within the Black community on the Republican side is he doesn’t engage well-known Black Republicans. He surrounded himself with people in the party who were not engaged in the Black community he did not build that support outside of the committee,” Jackson said. And that’s why although Steele has a solid 30-40 votes within the 168-member committee – 85 is needed to win – he doesn’t have the external machine needed to counter possible collusion among the other candidates to defeat him.

“ Black Republicans are neutral; they don’t feel they have a dog in the race.”

Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this story.

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO