Michael Steele’s top aides quit on day of RNC debate

Jon Ward Contributor
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Michael Steele’s odds for a second term as Republican National Committee chairman grew much longer Monday, as two of his top aides quit and a count of the committee’s 168 members showed no path to a win for the incumbent.

Michael Leavitt, Steele’s chief of staff, and Doug Heye, his top spokesman, announced their resignations on Monday. Both men worked for Steele in his unsuccessful 2006 bid for the U.S. Senate, and came back into Steele’s chaotic orbit this year.

Steele’s inner circle is now made up of just three people, according to those inside the RNC: his long-time personal aide Belinda Cook, Angela Sailor, his director of coalitions and outreach, who has been in national Republican politics for several years, and fundraiser Neil Alpert, a mysterious figure who has become close to Steele despite having a checkered background and little background in politics.

Leavitt plans to take a job with one of two lobbying and consulting firms in Maine, his home state, and will split time between Washington and the Pine Tree State, according to Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook.

Heye told friends and associates in an e-mail that he wanted to give the next chairman, “whomever that might be, the opportunity to choose their own staff without any complications.”

Heye also said that his colleagues in the communications shop at the RNC “excelled under difficult circumstances and did so with good humor.”

Leavitt and Heye were often exasperated by Steele’s undisciplined style. Steele talked to them less and less frequently in recent months, though they continued to defend him to reporters.

Steele’s isolation within the RNC is compounded by the lack of support he enjoys from RNC members around the country, who will vote next week on who will be the chairman for 2011 and 2012.

A whip count by Politico published Monday found that there are 88 members solidly opposed to voting for Steele. That would mathematically eliminate Steele from being able to reach the 85 votes, out of 168, needed to win a second term.

Nonetheless, Steele continues to run and announced just last week that he would participate in Monday’s debate with the other candidates for the job.

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