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Steele says GOP ready to regain its relevance

By Ben Evans
Associated Press / May 20, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Republican Party chairman Michael Steele likened President Obama's popularity to that of a celebrity and said yesterday that Republicans can't be afraid of criticizing him if they want to regain their relevance.

"He's young. He's cool. He's hip," Steele told state party leaders. But "this is not 'American Idol.' This is serious. We are going to take on the president head-on. The honeymoon is over."

But the GOP will confront Obama with class and dignity, unlike the "shabby and classless way" Democrats criticized George W. Bush, he said.

Issuing a rallying call, Steele said the GOP has owned up to the errors that caused its fall from power and is embarking on a renaissance.

"The era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over," he said. Now we will focus all of our energies on winning the future."

Steele is trying to revive a GOP that's out of power in the White House, Congress, and a slew of state houses across the country. And the GOP is in the midst of an intense debate over its identity while facing an emboldened Democratic Party that has grown larger under Obama's leadership. Polls show a precipitous drop in Americans identifying themselves as Republicans; a recent Gallup survey found shrinkage across the demographic board with the overall numbers showing 53 percent Democrat, 39 percent Republican.

Steele, the first black GOP chairman, is also seeking to reestablish himself after a rocky start to his two-year term that drew criticism from some longtime RNC members as well as a sustained Democratic campaign tagging conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh as the GOP's titular head.

Steele was fending off efforts to strip him of some control of RNC operations from a small band of l critics who say he is mismanaging the organization.

Steele said that the GOP's comeback is "well underway" in the states, but that those in Washington don't recognize it yet. "Republicans may be the minority party at the moment, but we represent the ideas and concerns of the majority of Americans," he said.