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Michael Steele's many blunders led to defeat in RNC chair reelection campaign
By the end of 2009, Republican gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia won major victories by rallying the traditional coalition of voters who had long elected Republicans.
Ahead of the 2010 elections, sensing the chances for a big victory, GOP leaders in Congress simply wanted a party chairman who could raise money and keep attention focused on the troubles of congressional Democrats.
Never known as a strong fundraiser and plagued by a lack of confidence in his leadership, Steele struggled to raise money for the GOP. Party operatives instead built outside fundraising operations, often collecting checks from people who were shunning Steele's RNC.
Meanwhile, the RNC continued to make mistakes. In March, the committee's campaign finance reports showed a low-level aide authorized spending $2,000 for potential donors to visit a bondage-themed night club in Hollywood. Three months later, Steele publicly questioned the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, even as the majority of congressional Republicans back the war effort there.
By last month, when Steele declared he would run for reelection, he had almost no chance of winning. The committee's staff was fleeing after the election, anticipating Steele's departure, and one of his top operatives, Gentry Collins, publicly blasted Steele for wasting the party's money. The RNC ended 2010 with a record $20 million debt.
In choosing to run a long-shot campaign for a second two-year term as chairman, Steele admitted he was a clear underdog.
Steele has not said what he will do in his future, but the role as the GOP's most prominent minority figure may no longer be open to him. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who is Cuban-American, and Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.), who is black, won in 2010 and are likely to emerge as key GOP figures.
The 6-foot-4 Steele, known for his bold pinstripe suits, had relished the attention that came with being party chairman, asking "How do you like me now?" in the press conference after he won in 2009.
He seemed aware Friday that, for now, his moment is over.
"Thank you for the opportunity to serve and to lead," he said Friday, "and now I exit, stage right."