RNC chair Michael Steele bounded up to the podium at his post-election press conference at Republican Party HQ in Washington this morning.
“How’s everyone feeling?” he said with a big grin. When the two dozen or so bleary eyed reporters in the audience failed to respond to the question, his grin grew even larger. “That good, huh?”
For the next 30 minutes, Steele raved on about his party’s victories last night — and on his role in making them happen.
“The GOP renaissance has begun,” he said, before borrowing a line from President Obama’s campaign last year. “This election was not about ‘the change we need.’ It’s about the change the American people want.”As he has in numerous TV interviews last night and this morning, Steele said that the GOP’s big wins in Virginia and New Jersey indicated that the party has come back from a string of losses that he said left many observers questioning whether Republicans had a future as a national party in America. He again said the party’s defeat in the hotly contested NY-23 congressional race was more about a “flawed process” in the way the local party selected nominees, rather than “a battle for the soul of the party” that activists on the left and the right made it out to be.
“I’m not concerned about that,” he said to questions about the ideological takeaways from NY-23. “I’m more concerned about a Democratic party that has a 60-seat majority in the Senate and can’t pass a health care bill.”
But Steele did focus on one topic he’s largely ignored in the initial coverage of last night’s races: his own tenure as chairman. Fraught with turmoil, gaffes and public calls for his resignation from party leaders early on, Steele’s time leading the GOP has been dramatic to say the least. He suggested last night’s win means all that is behind him.
“It’s not about credit,” he said when asked how responsible he was for the wins. “It’s about sharing credit with the winners…and giving credit to the volunteers and party activists that made this happen.”
Steele reeled off a list of numbers that suggested credit to the RNC was not exactly the furthest thing from his mind, however. He said the RNC spent around $13 million in both New Jersey and Virginia, and claimed to have ramped up the party’s grassroots operation — as he promised he would when he took over the RNC last November.
“Our volunteers contacted 5.8 million voters during the course of this campaign,” he said. “That’s three times the number we reached in 2008.”
“I’m in the business of winning,” he added. “My responsibility was to move us out of the ash heap of losses.”
Steele scoffed at critics of his fundraising prowess. “I laugh at people who don’t think it’s a big deal that I’m only $1.3 million behind the Democrats in fundraising,” he said. “They’ve got the presidency and both houses of Congress and I’m only $1.3 million behind? I mean, come on.”
The chair said he learned “a lot of lessons” from the race to help make things go even better for Republicans next time around. He also gave some insight into how he motivated his candidates to victory this year.
“I told every nominee the same thing,” he said. “I’ll help you win, I’ll do whatever I can, but don’t screw it up.”