WASHINGTON - Bucking calls to step down, embattled GOP Chairman Michael Steele has told Republican National Committee members that he's running for re-election in an announcement that came as a surprise even to insiders.
"Our work is not done, and my commitment has not ended," he said in a statement to committee members, which Bloomberg News said was provided by a person close to the issue.
Several participants confirmed the announcement after listening to a private conference call last night between Steele and the 168-member committee. The RNC will vote in January on whether to grant Steele a second two-year term, which would involve leading the party through the 2012 presidential election, or to choose a successor from a growing field of candidates.
Even so, Steele, whose term expires in January, has watched his once strong support within the RNC rank and file all but evaporate during a first term that has been marked by allegations of financial mismanagement and verbal missteps. He became the party's first black national chairman in January 2009, just months after Barack Obama was elected the nation's first black president.
Publicly, Steele has defended himself while criticism mounted of his stewardship of the party's national operations. Still, insiders had been speculating privately that he would bow out of the race.
According to some who heard the conference call, Reuters reported, Steele admitted to making mistakes, saying he "stumbled along the way." Reuters also quoted participants who said he added: "I've made no excuses. I'm asking you tonight for your support, I'm asking for your vote for a second term."