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RNC Chair Debate Centers around Money, Steele a No Show

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RNC Chairman Michael Steele speaks during an election night gathering in Washington on November 2, 2010. A significant bloc of RNC members wants Steele to step aside, but the rank and file have failed to settle on a clear alternative. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (AP2010)

Washington -- Money was the central issue as Republican National Committee chairman hopefuls faced off in a debate Tuesday.

"Money is mother's milk in politics," said former RNC chair and current committee member Mike Duncan of Kentucky. "There isn't too much, there is too little!"

The next RNC chairman will be elected by 168 committee members during the Winter Meetings in mid-January. Current chairman Michael Steele has not announced whether or not he will be running for another term and did not attend today's debate. That did not stop his would-be successors from attacking his record over the past two years.

Four potential future chairs attended the debate, criticizing the RNC's recent fundraising efforts and pinning the blame on Steele. As a group they extolled the absolute necessity of effective RNC fundraising, and said Steele must answer for this past cycle's inadequacies.

"The party under his leadership failed to raise the major donor money it is going to require to defeat Barack Obama in 2012," said Gentry Collins, who was the political director at the RNC during Michael Steele's time, and is now considering a run for chairmanship.

"It takes two things to win an election: money and everything else," said Saul Anuzis, a committee member and former state party chair from Michigan, who ran against Steele in 2009 and has officially announced his intentions to run for RNC chairman once again.

"It's money first, money second and it's money third," said former Missouri state GOP chair Ann Wagner.

The RNC under Steele raised nearly $80 million ahead of the 2010 elections but spent all that and more, taking out a $15 million loan. Gentry Collins said the GOP could have taken up to two dozen more House seats had Steele been a more effective fundraiser and estimated that the RNC will need to raise around $420 million to oust President Obama in 2012.

The forum was put on by FreedomWorks, a political action committee closely associated with the Tea Party movement, and attended by both Tea Party activists and RNC committee members.

A group of committee members, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's nephew Henry, is urging Wisconsin GOP chairman and Steele loyalist Reince Preibus to run. Priebus was not at the debate today but has not ruled out a run.

Sources close to Steele say they think he wants to run again and is weighing his chances by reaching out to committee members.