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Posted at 2:58 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Is Michael Steele edging toward a reelection bid?

By Chris Cillizza

In a memo distributed to the Republican National Committee members today, Chairman Michael Steele pushed back against a growing din of criticism over his two years in office, arguing that his time in the post has been defined by a series of electoral, fundraising and grassroots successes.

"The RNC has been, and will be, focused on a single goal: building an enduring majority party -- from the grassroots up," wrote Steele in the memo, which was distributed to reporters by Holly Hughes, a Republican National Committeewoman from Michigan and a Steele ally. "The 2010 election is the first step, but only the first, towards achieving that goal."

Steele cited a series of facts and figures to defend the fundraising of the RNC -- noting that the committee collected $179 million in the 2010 cycle and vastly increased the number of new donors to the committee as compared to recent midterm elections.

He also launched a spirited defense of the RNC's turnout operation, pointing out that the 44 million people who voted for Republicans in 2010 is the highest turnout for any party in a midterm election in the history of U.S. elections. "Encouraging those millions of disaffected conservative voters to become active Republicans was at the center of the RNC's turnout strategy," wrote Steele.

(Steele critics would argue that it was President Obama and the policies his Administration pursued not the RNC chairman that drove the intensity within the GOP electorate.)

Sources familiar with Steele's deliberations insist that his memo should not be read as part of any broader strategy -- or reelection effort -- and is solely an attempt on the chairman's part to defend himself amid a series of attacks being launched against him.

Context matters, however. And, Steele's memo comes hard on the heels of a withering resignation letter sent by former RNC political director Gentry Collins earlier this week that amounted to an indictment of Steele's tenure.

Whether or not Steele is planning a second run for chairman, he -- and his allies -- are clearly making a concerted effort to preserve that option if he decides to choose it.

Conversations with a number of strategists close to the committee suggest that the ranks of Steele supporters number roughly 50 -- well short of the 85 he would need to win a second term when it comes to a vote early next year.

Steele has been counseled by some allies to step aside both for his own good and the good of the party but it remains to be seen whether he will heed that advice.

The field of challengers to Steele remains largely unformed. Former Michigan Republican party chairman Saul Anuzis is running while Collins, former RNC aide Maria Cino and California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring among many others are looking at the race. Republican Governors Association executive director Nick Ayers has not shown any interest in the job.

By Chris Cillizza  | November 19, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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