Some Republicans Fear Steele Controversies Will Halt GOP Momentum

In this Feb. 3, 2010 file photo Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP)

In this Feb. 3, 2010 file photo Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP)

When Michael Steele improbably won election as chairman of the Republican National Committee last year, he vowed to use his energetic and fresh leadership style to reshape the image of a party battered in two straight election cycles and to attract more minorities and youths.

But after a series of controversies -- the most recent over the committee spending nearly $2,000 at a sex-themed nightclub -- some are wondering whether Steele's leadership is stealing thunder from Republicans right at the time they are poised to deal a serious blow to Democrats in November's midterm congressional elections.

On Thursday, Tom Fetzer, the head of the North Carolina Republican Party, became the first state party chairman to call for Steele's resignation, as GOP officials and big donors complain that the RNC lacks the money to help the party's candidates.

In a letter to Steele, Fetzer said the resignation is the only way to end scrutiny of the national party over lavish spending and ensure Republicans maximize gains during the midterm elections.

"If we're going to be party that's a force for reform, ethics and transparency in government, then we're obliged to reflect those values in our internal business affairs," he told Fox News on Friday. "And I just think the confidence in the Republican base is shaken and the only way to restore that confidence is for a change in leadership at the RNC."

But the RNC has fired back, issuing a letter of support for Steele that 32 state party chairmen so far have signed, RNC spokesman Doug Heye told Fox News.

The letter states that the Republican Party state chairmen "believe Chairman Michael Steele can lead the RNC to be a full partner with us this fall in our efforts to fire Nancy Pelosi and win Republican majorities in Congress and among governors."

"The charge of any national Chairman is to raise money and win elections," the letter reads. "With over $100 million raised, victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and victories in 29 of 37 special elections, Michael Steele has demonstrated that under his Chairmanship the RNC has the ability, focus, and drive to lead Republicans to a sweeping victory in November."

Heye said the list of party chairmen pledging support to Steele keeps growing because "they know that at the end of the day the real priority for the Republican National Committee and Chairman Steele has done a great job on this, is to raise money so we can invest it in victory programs" for the states.

In March, the RNC raised $11.4 million, the most the committee has raised in March of a congressional-election year and the RNC's best fund-raising month since Steele took control.

But that tally was still $2 million less than the Democratic National Committee in a political environment that appears to favor Republicans.

Critics are blaming recent revelations of Steele spending thousands of dollars on private jets and RNC picking up a $1,946 tab that a group of young Republicans ran at a risqué Los Angeles Voyeur nightclub on Jan. 31.

The RNC fired a staffer it blamed for the outing and said the bill would be reimbursed by a donor who had attended. Steele also accepted the resignation this week of his chief of staff and allowed one of his senior advisers to leave in an attempt to reassure GOP donors upset about his leadership.

Steele said earlier in the week he would not resign and defended his stewardship of party affairs. He dismissed criticism – some of it centered on spending on flights, limousines and high-dollar hotels – as griping by GOP figures uncomfortable with his "streetwise" managerial style.

Heye dismissed the notion that Steele's leadership is threatening to derail the party's fortunes.

"At the end of the day, we can either talk amongst ourselves or we can beat Democrats," he said. "And that's our priority."

Heye, who noted the RNC's fundraising total in March, said Steele is focused on raising more money.

"All that money goes to one thing: beating Democrats in November," he said.