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Steele Wants GOP Cash to Keep Coming

The alarm bells started ringing inside the Senate campaign of Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele earlier this week: Was the national GOP leaving them behind?

As reported today, with anywhere from five to seven U.S. Senate seats to defend around the country, the GOP sent signals it would not match the quick infusion of $750,000 that the national Democratic party put into television ads in Maryland on behalf of Rep. Benjamin Cardin.

"They've made the commitment to have Sen. [Hillary] Clinton come here, Sen. [Barack] Obama come here. The natural question is: 'This is what these guys are doing; what are you prepared to do?' " Steele said in an interview yesterday.

During the courtship that brought Steele into the race, he had been made many promises, his aides said. Steele said he recognizes that the political landscape has changed. And he's appreciative of all the party has done for him to this point--which is substantial.

The RNC underwrote the cost of a microtargeting program that helps identify and attract Steele voters, and it is paying for staff members to help with get-out-the-vote operations until Election Day.

President Bush, former president George H.W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson appeared at fundraisers organized with the help of the Republican National Committee. Those efforts yielded $1.1 million for Steele's campaign. The committee also contributed $267,000 directly to a joint candidate fund that benefits Steele.

"The commitments made to me have stayed in place so far," Steele said. "It's been an unprecedented commitment so far. My hope is it will be an unprecedented commitment through the end."

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Dan Ronayne said he would not discuss "strategic plans" but added, "It does say a lot about how well Michael Steele is positioned in this race that the [Democrats are] spending serious money in Maryland."

Two sources close to Steele said that the campaign team began to sense that the party's financial commitments had essentially dried up as the senatorial committee has seen more pressing needs arise in states where sitting senators are under fire from Democratic challengers. Both sources spoke on the condition that they not be named, because they were discussing the internal workings of the campaign. They noted that party has paid for ads in three states: Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee.

Steele has reached out to RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman for help in keeping the spigot open. Mehlman has been a champion of the party's efforts to begin an earnest outreach to black voters, though he expressed annoyance with Steele in a recent interview with The New York Times, saying he was "flabbergasted" to learn that Steele had been taking shots at the White House during a background session with Washington reporters.

Steele said he believes Republicans have the chance to convert African American voters because of a sense that the Democratic Party has taken them for granted -- especially since former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume lost the Senate Democratic primary.

"A lot of people were watching what happened to Kweisi," Steele said yesterday, adding that those voters will want to know, "Will my party be bold in its effort to show that it's commitment is different from theirs?"

By  |  September 29, 2006; 10:12 AM ET
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