They aren't laughing at Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele anymore. As he wraps up a six-week, 48-state tour on the RNC's "Fire Pelosi" bus tour, Steele looks as revived as the party he runs which is expected to see huge political gains in Tuesday's election.
Launched on September 15 in Fairfax, Virginia, the bus tour that is finishing its trip today in Maryland, has logged 13,000 miles and been joined by 230 federal and state Republican candidates. Along the way, hundreds of Republican supporters have posed for pictures with Steele and the red bus that is painted with a sign that reads: "Need A Job? Fire Pelosi."
Steele has attended most of the stops and has been gone so much that he even spent his 25th wedding anniversary--alone--at a Best Western in Fargo, N.D. Along the way, aides say that he has rallied voters, brought much-needed attention to media-starved candidates and raised cash for candidates and the RNC. He missed only a couple of stops, twice to co-host rallies with Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, events that helped quiet suggestions that she was either breaking from the GOP or at war with Republican officials.
It's been a remarkable turnaround for Steele and his party. When he ran for the job almost two years ago, the Republican Party had been left for dead in the rubble of President Obama's historic election. In his early months, Steele's verbal gaffes were mocked and his fundraising efforts highly criticized.
But today the GOP stands on the verge of winning back control of the House, thus firing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and coming very close to taking the Senate majority and is financially set, leading some to suggest that Steele could win reelection to the post if he chooses to run.
In an interview from the bus as it left Salisbury, Maryland, Steele said that the tour proved his belief that the political change sweeping the nation is grassroots based. "This is the most organic political experience that I have witnessed in my 35 years," he said. "Washington had better be ready for the storm that is about to hit."
He included Republicans in that warning, explaining that Republican voters want progress on cutting spending and the size of government and that there "are consequences for that support."
The tour also seemed to vindicate Steele's whole approach to the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. By encouraging minorities and politically inexperienced Americans to get involved and run for office, he says that the party is starting to look more like America. "We drilled down on the grass roots," he said. "I had a sense that there was a vibration down there. This is not your momma or poppa's Republican Party."
Some say that the resurgence of the GOP is also a personal vindication for the oft-criticized Steele. "Oh, I get the joke," he says of his critics. "They'll say Steele was irrelevant" to the party's new dawn. "They are lying to themselves," he says. A noted hip-hop fan, Steele reveals that he also likes Frank Sinatra and said that the crooner's tune "My Way" was a theme song for his past two years. "It a lot of ways, we did it our way," he said, instead of following the advice of older GOP advisers.
He wouldn't commit in the interview to running for reelection, but he said it's something he is considering. "It is a good record," he said.
Insiders offered Washington Whispers this report card on the RNC over the past two years:
-- The RNC has raised and spent more money on behalf of Republican candidates—by far—than any other entity, including both official GOP campaign committees and nominally independent groups that are not bound by the legal limits that apply to the RNC.
-- The RNC already has broken the record for most money collected in a cycle by any committee whose party does not control Congress or the White House. Thus far, RNC receipts already exceed $175 million.
-- In the 2010 cycle, the RNC already has exceeded the amount of money raised by the RNC in 1994, even after adjusting for inflation. That was the year the GOP took the House and Senate from the Democrats after 40 years of control.
-- Over 1,000,000 donors have given so far this year—far more than the last mid-term election year—with over 220,000 donations in September alone. It has gained over 665,000 new donors this cycle, making an average donation of $43.71.
-- Some 360 Victory offices have been established, twice in 2008, all staffed with paid and volunteer workers. So far, over 35 million voter contacts have been made, more than during the 2008 presidential campaign.
-- On the technology front, the party's website has seen page views surge 159 percent.