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Posted at 4:30 PM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Little mention of Michael Steele at RNC candidate forum

By Aaron Blake

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was absent from today's forum for candidates seeking to replace him -- both in person and, largely, in spirit.

The controversial party chairman, who has yet to determine whether he will run for another term, is a hot topic in Republican circles, where concern over his stewardship of the party has led to upwards of a dozen candidates to consider running against him.

But of the four who showed up at a forum hosted by the tea party group FreedomWorks in Washington -- an event billed as the semi-official kickoff of the race -- none mentioned Steele until nearly 90 minutes into the debate and only after the chairman's name was invoked by an audience questioner.

"The circumstances have changed," said former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said. "To me, this is not about firing somebody, this is about hiring somebody."

"Chairman Steele is a fine man, a good man, and he's always been good to me personally. We all like him," noted former RNC political director Gentry Collins, who served under Steele until recently, when he resigned and issued a scathing four-page letter detailing the committee's problems. Collins went on to say that the RNC under Steele didn't raise enough money.

Former RNC co-chairwoman Ann Wagner agreed on the fundraising problem -- "I don't believe that has been done in the last cycle" -- while former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said only that the party needs someone to unite it.

Anuzis and Wagner are the two declared candidates for the RNC chairmanship, while Collins and Duncan are both considering whether to run. Other potential candidates who didn't attend the forum Wednesday include former RNC official Maria Cino and Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy. Along with, of course, Steele himself.

In their opening statements, Duncan and Collins largely ignored the recent controversies at the RNC. The two declared candidates, though, alluded to changes that need to be made.

"We need a strong effective and unifying RNC chair," Wagner said. "If elected, I intend to be a chairman full time, 24-7."

Anuzis said the RNC was saved by other party committees this last cycle, but noted that that won't be the case in a presidential year. "The Republican Governors Association stepped in and took over many states because we weren't ready to do the job," Anuzis said.

The next RNC chairman will be elected next month at the RNC's winter meeting.

By Aaron Blake  | December 1, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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