Steele Debates 4 Challengers For GOP Chairmanship
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Among his challengers is Ann Wagner, a former ambassador and Missouri Republican Party official. Here's how she opened the debate yesterday.
ANN WAGNER: How can an organization that has 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?
GONYEA: Steele, has been accused of lavish spending on travel and on office remodeling, money that could have gone to campaigns. He wasn't attacked directly on that at yesterday's debate, but it was the subtext to statements like this from candidate Maria Cino, who is a former Bush administration official.
MARIA CINO: The first thing is get our fiscal house in order. We have to practice what we preach as Republicans, and I think we need to get our debt under control.
GONYEA: Steele defended himself.
MICHAEL STEELE: My record stands for itself. We won.
GONYEA: Unidentified Man (Moderator): Starting with Maria Cino, how many guns do you own?
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GONYEA: Michael Steele also said none. Wisconsin GOP chairman, Reince Pribius, said five; Michigan's former Republican Party Chair, Saul Anuzis, said four. Then came Anne Wagner.
WAGNER: Well, I may surprise y'all, but we just got a new gun safe for Christmas, and I think there are about 16 in there. Every - everything from pistols and a Glock to shotguns, rifles; and my son, who's on a combat weapons team at WestPoint, has an assault rifle on status report too. So there you go.
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GONYEA: Unidentified Man (Moderator): Mr. Steele, can Sarah Palin win a general election?
GONYEA: Like Steele, the others all nodded and quickly answered yes. There was a lot of talk about what it means to be a Republican. Each spoke of family values, shrinking the government, lower taxes, a strong military. At one point, the moderator asked what disqualifies someone from being a Republican. Here's Reince Priebus.
REINCE PRIEBUS: If you're pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-GM bailout, pro-AIG, well, you know, guess what? You might not be a Republican.
GONYEA: Michael Steele had a different view.
STEELE: But we cannot be a party that sits back with a litmus test and excludes. And the national chairman cannot go into a state and say, you're less Republican than you are; therefore, I will not talk with you and only talk with you.
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STEELE: That is not the Republican Party I joined at 17 years old.
GONYEA: Steele is the incumbent and an underdog in this race. The decision will be made by the 168 delegates who have a vote, most are state Republican Party officials. You need 85 to win. Now at one point yesterday, Steele seemed to acknowledge what many say is his likely fate in this election.
STEELE: Because all of us at some point are going to need to retire - it's probably sooner than later for some - and the reality of it is that we need to - we need to make certain that the next generation is prepared and ready to step up.
GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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