RNC Chairman Steele: GOP 'Turned an Important Corner' Election Night

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 4, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, the GOP won two big governor's mansions last night. One Republican in particular must be dancing happy today. No, we're not talking about Tom DeLay but RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Chairman Steele joins us. Chairman Steele, are you dancing today?

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I -- well, I had a two-step or two early this morning when I was with Governor-elect Christie, and it was just great fun.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where did you watch...

STEELE: Last night was a great night.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where'd you watch the returns?

STEELE: Well, I had an interesting day. I started the day, I flew from Washington to New Jersey and met with the Christie campaign team and thanked them for their hard work, then flew to Virginia, where I spent the early part of the evening and watched the returns come in and was there for the speech with Governor-elect McDonnell, and then flew back to New Jersey and arrived shortly after Governor-elect Christie got off the stage. And we spent a little time in the room with his family and his friends and chatted for a bit, and then took the flight back home and got in around 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock this morning.

VAN SUSTEREN: Quite a day. All right, which one strategically -- if you could only win one and you're looking at the big picture for the Republican Party, which one made you happier strategically?

STEELE: Strategically, New Jersey, I think, because no one believed in the possibility there and folks were throwing up all the historical, you know, analysis and data. And the Dems, I love their talking points on this. Oh, well, you know, this was -- this was inevitable. We predicted this would happen. Wow, really? You put the president in a situation where he's going to expose himself four times to a loss? I mean, it doesn't make sense.

So everyone who were engaged in this thought for sure the Democrats would have it. I had said to the staff two months ago that this race would be won by Chris Christie by 4 points, and last night, when the number -- when we hit 59, you know, 50 -- what was it -- 49, 50, 45, I was, like, yes, that's what I'm talking about.

But that race was important because it is -- it is such a Democrat stronghold. It has been such a -- you know, a back yard, if you will, for -- as part of the strength of the Democratic Party on the East Coast. And I thought a win there would help us send a new signal. It was an area where we could try some things, Greta, that we have not done in prior elections, technologically in terms of our turn-out program, in terms of the messaging that we wanted to put on the ground.

And so the combination of Virginia and New Jersey really gave us an opportunity to do a translation, if you will, of conservative principles in the 21st century to a broad spectrum of voters who ran the range from, you know, sort of the purple-ish sort of areas of Virginia to the hard-core blue areas of New Jersey.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what happened to you in the 23rd district in New York? The Conservative candidate, not a Republican, but the candidate Republicans threw the weight behind in the last couple days...

STEELE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened to you there?

STEELE: Well, that was a special election with a very messed-up process. This is an example of what happens when a small group of individuals select the nominee without the opportunity for the primary voter, Republican voter, to express who they want to represent them in the general election. And what we saw, Greta, over the last couple of weeks was just that, a primary unfolded before our eyes between a moderate and a conservative candidate, speared on by conservative activists in the district who felt very differently about the choice that had been made.

My problem, as you probably are aware of, as the national chairman is I don't get to pick the winners, the losers. I don't get to pick the nominees. I have to abide by the choice that's made at the table by the grass roots, hopefully, in most cases, whether they are selected as they were in the New York 23rd district or through a primary process. So it was really flawed.

The other side, Greta, as you're also probably aware, that, you know, this was a special election to fill a seat, and so we're going to have to do this all over again, and, hopefully, we'll have a better process in place to select the appropriate nominee.

But 23rd district notwithstanding, last night was a great night for Republicans across the country who won in areas in Michigan and Pennsylvania, certainly New Jersey and Virginia, in special elections, in some cases, and general election campaigns, in which I felt that we really had turned an important corner last night.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you turned an important corner, but let's say health care reform gets passed and it's exactly what the Democrats want, everything. Do you think, all of a sudden, like, now, all of a sudden, you're moved off the front page, and all of a sudden, it's the Democrats who have the wind behind their back?

STEELE: Absolutely not because if that -- if what you just described happens, then a lot of Blue Dogs in this country are going to have a lot of 'splaining to do back at home in their districts, where people do not want the health care that's being peddled by this administration. They don't want government control. They don't want a government option. They don't want government-run health care. And I think anyone, whether it comes out of the House this week or later on in the year, promoting a plan that is outside the mainstream of where America is, they will pay a price.

That's what last night was about. You have Americans reflected in those two jurisdictions who were at town hall meetings, who were at 9/12 gatherings, who were at tea parties throughout the summer and spring who had something to say. They said it very loudly last night, and folks in Washington better pay attention.

VAN SUSTEREN: Chairman Steele, as always, thank you, sir.

STEELE: Thank you.

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