Steele resolves to stay put as party chairman

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The timing of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s visit to Colorado on Thursday clearly magnified the media interest in his appearance. It was the first time the embattled party leader spoke in public since making his controversial comments at a Connecticut fundraiser the week before that the war in Afghanistan could not be won.

Steele called Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing” and then stated, “if [President Obama is] such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?”

Steele’s comments, taped secretly, made some Republicans cringe, including the GOP’s nominee for president in 2008. Sen. John McCain called Steele’s comments “wildly inaccurate.”

RNC Chairman Michael Steele attends the opening of the state party’s “Victory” program.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

Steele didn’t address the subject during his initial remarks to local party workers, but in response to a press inquiry afterwards he made clear his intentions to remain on the job despite recent calls for his resignation. He said outright that he “ain’t going anywhere” and pledged to continue his work to reshape the political landscape in November when the mid-tern elections are held.

If Steele preferred to sidestep the controversy at first, his aides at the RNC were ready to tackle it head-on. Before their chairman was even introduced to the Colorado crowd, they distributed a three-page handout to members of the media with quotes from Steele reinforcing his “consistent” and “vocal” support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also included in the press packet was an official statement from the chairman issued last week which highlighted his support of increasing the country’s troop force in Afghanistan.

Republican National Committeewoman Lily Nuñez listens tto Steele’s remarks at party headquarters.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

Having made several other public gaffes that have resulted in earlier calls for his removal from the party’s top spot, Steele is no stranger to controversy. But on this particular day at an office park in suburban Greenwood Village, he didn’t allow the latest broohaha to get him off message. And victory in 2010 was his emphasis.

In fact, as he made his remarks to the assembled media and party workers, he stood at the helm of Colorado Republicans’ new “Victory” headquarters, an expansive room in the same building where the state party has its digs.

Equipped with row after row of high tech phones, the space will serve as campaign central for the state party, which plans to use the area for volunteer phone banks and other get-out-the-vote efforts.

Steele talked about the importance of these efforts here in Colorado and across the country. One of the trademarks of his term as chairman, he said, has been to aide the state parties early on with resources to hype Republican turnout at the polls.

Colorado Victory 2010 is this year’s effort to lead a Republican resurgence in the state. It is the party’s grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign known by some as the “96-hour Program” on behalf of all Republican candidates. Its goal is to contact voters through phone calls and door-to-door efforts in order to increase Republican voter turnout at the polls in November.

This year’s Colorado effort is being headed by Chuck Poplstein, a young attorney-turned political operative who oversaw similar duties in Missouri in 2008.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CD 6, attended the event at Victory headquarters, as did state Sen. Nancy Spence. Even Jeannie Reeser, a former Democratic state representative from Adams County, was spotted there. But missing were many of the party’s candidates and elected officials who had turned out in force for Steele’s first appearance in the state shortly after he was elected national chairman.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com