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Senior RNC Member Defends Chairman Steele

At the 2009 Republican National Committee winter meeting, it took six ballots for Michael Steele to be elected chairman. Morton Blackwell, a senior committeeman from Virginia, didn't vote for Steele on any of the ballots, but after a string of successful election wins for Republicans and amid continued criticism of the party chairman, Blackwell is coming to Steele's defense.

"I will make you a prediction -- in future years, people will look back and credit Michael Steele with being one of the most successful national chairmen in history," Blackwell said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "I have to tell you that I and everybody I know in the Republican Party of Virginia are really delighted at the massive support and assistance that the RNC gave in helping us to win our statewide elections here in Virginia last November."

Republicans swept the elections for Virginia's statewide offices, and also won the governor's race in New Jersey and, improbably, a special Senate election in Massachusetts this week. However, the outspoken Steele continues to be criticized for overexposure, speaking gaffes, fundraising and spending, and a self-promotional book tour.

The Washington Times reported last week that senior RNC members were preparing a motion barring Steele from holding any more book promotion events. The 168-member committee would vote on the motion during next week's winter meeting in Honolulu. Blackwell, who's serving his sixth four-year term, says he was unaware of the motion.

On handling the committee's finances, Steele's been criticized for spending more than the committee is taking in. In a press release today, the RNC announced raising $6.6 million last month, leaving it with $8.4 million in the bank to end the year. However, that's far less than the party had just six months ago, when it ended June with $23.7 million on hand.

There has been tension between Steele and congressional Republicans for months now. Among other issues, House Republican leaders bristled at a recent Steele statement that he didn't think the GOP could win back the House in 2010. Also, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that he was not in favor of the RNC holding its annual meeting in Hawaii.

"Do I want voters to think that Republicans do nothing but go to beach resorts in January? No," Cantor told reporters.

The meeting is being held at the lavish Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. Although the RNC pays for its staff to attend, the 168 members are required to pay their own way. Due to the cost, the other two committee members from Virginia are not able to attend, and have charged Blackwell with voting for them next week.

Blackwell, who knows and likes Cantor, defended the decision to go to Hawaii, and said it was nothing new for there to be some tension between the party's separate organizations.

"The case was made that we have never met in Hawaii, at least not in living memory," said Blackwell. "Hawaii has a Republican governor and the Hawaii party very much wanted to host it at least once -- because they've traveled many, many times for the meetings here."
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