RNC Chairman Michael Steele Exits Re-Election Bid ‘Stage Right’

By Fred Lucas | January 14, 2011 | 5:10 PM EST

Michael Steele. (AP File Photo/Ron Edmonds)

National Harbor Md. (CNSNews.com) – Michael Steele dropped his reelection bid for chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) after coming up short, in the first four ballots, to former Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Preibus, a former Steele protégé.

This likely clears the way for a Preibus victory, who gained 67 votes out of the 85 needed to win the chairmanship in the fifth ballot. The RNC has 168 members. Steele asked his supporters to back former RNC official Maria Cino for the position.

“At this time I will step aside for others to lead,” Steele told the RNC gathering this afternoon.

“In so doing, I hope you all appreciate the legacy we leave,” Steele said in reference to the GOP’s electoral success during his tenure. “Despite noise -- Lord knows we had a lot of noise --  despite the difficulties, we won.”

After Steele made that remark, the entire room stood to give him a standing ovation.

The other contenders to run the RNC are former Missouri GOP Chairman Ann Wagner and former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis.

“I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different,” Steele said. “I will release my supporters and ask them to stand with me in supporting Maria Cino.”

“Barack Obama’s agenda is not good for America,” Steele said. “We fired Pelosi. Let’s take the Senate. Let’s take the White House. Thank you for the opportunity to serve and to lead. And now I exit, stage right.”

Steele was elected chairman of the RNC after the 2008 election that saw the election of President Barack Obama and saw Democrats increase their majorities in Congress. In 2009, Republicans picked up governor’s seats in Virginia and New Jersey. In early 2010, Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat of the late liberal Democratic icon Ted Kennedy, and Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in November with 63 new seats and picked up six Senate seats. Steele launched a “Fire Pelosi” bus tour for the mid-term election.

But, Steele’s tenure has been filled with gaffes, such as calling Afghanistan Obama’s war and criticizing talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh. The RNC is also $20 million in debt, putting the party in a problematic position going into the 2012 presidential election. The debt and spending problems caused donations to dry up from previous years, causing Steele’s critics to say Republican victories were in spite of him, not because of him.