RNC Chair Steele Defends Record in Debate

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Michael Steele's tenure as Republican National Committee chairman has been marked by gaffes, scandals and controversy.

Consequently, he now has four serious challengers for the job. Steele defended his record on Monday during a 90-minute debate in Washington, D.C., Monday.

"My record stands for itself," he said. "We won. I was asked to win elections. I was asked to raise money - $192 million over the last two years. We won."

"The fact that we're here right now celebrating that win, I think, says a lot about the record," he added. 

However, some critics said Steele has botched his time as RNC chairman, and there's no way he can win another term.

The latest blow came with word the RNC is $20 million in debt, giving the challengers to Steele, like Ann Wagner, former ambassador to Luxembourg, an easy route of attack.

"It is time for some tough love at the Republican National Committee," Wagner said. "How can an organization that's lost its credibility, is $20 million in debt, is steeped in mismanagement, distractions, and drama actually lead us into the next election cycle of 2012 and offer change?"

Former RNC deputy chair Maria Cino said this is no time to be in debt when a hyper-expensive presidential race has already begun.

"And a $1 billion campaign is well underway," Cino said. "That's one of the reasons that the election for the RNC chairman is so extremely important."

Steele didn't directly answer the charges, but pointed out he headed the RNC during a time of huge turnaround, from defeat in 2006 and 2008 to victory in 2010.

"Time Magazine claimed that we were an endangered species in 2009, not that long ago," Steele said.

Whether or not former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis was thinking of Steele, he said the next RNC chairman has to talk and walk like a bold, proud conservative.

"This is a center-right nation," Anuzis said. "This is a country that believes in our fundamental conservative principles. When we act and talk and work like Republicans, we win. When we start acting and voting like Democrats, we lose."

The next chairman has to win 85 of the 168 RNC leadership board members. The frontrunner with a third of those sewn up is former Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus.

Priebus said the position is important because the RNC is battling for the survival of the nation.

"Our country is about to walk off a fiscal cliff," he said. "And as all of you know, pretty soon we're going to have more people riding the wagon than driving the wagon."

The RNC's main job is to raise funds and get out votes for Republican candidates. The election for chairman will take place Jan. 20.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.