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Kaine, Steele Defend Tenures, Spin Midterms

The chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national committees had very different predictions Sunday for the midterm elections, and they had divergent thoughts about their own futures.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said on ABC’s “This Week” that he expects few changes for the party in the near term. Kaine said Democrats would hold the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) would keep her gavel, and Kaine himself would keep his job. There has been talk that he would move into another post heading into the presidential cycle.

Kaine’s counterpart, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, also has been the subject of discussion in recent weeks, with Republicans quietly discussing whether he should keep his post.

On Sunday, Steele sounded a defensive note on his own position at the head of the RNC. “I’m not irrelevant. … We’ll worry about my election once we get through this election,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Steele had a very different vision of the midterm elections, predicting Republicans would win handily in the House and appearing optimistic that they could take the Senate.

Kaine acknowledged that Democrats haven’t done enough to showcase their accomplishments, a complaint recently made by both Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Clinton said Democrats have allowed themselves to be turned into “human piñatas.”

“We plead guilty to focusing on substance,” said Kaine, a former Virginia governor. In the future, though, Democrats might do more on the public relations front. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance between substance and explanation,” he said.

Kaine said that although most prognosticators expect Republicans to win the House on Nov. 2, he thinks the Democrats’ voter-turnout operation and recent gains in key polls portend positive things. “It will be close,” he said. “But it’s all about the ground game … and polling is moving our way.”

Steele suggested the opposite. “On the House, the balance of power will shift,” he said. He conceded that the Senate would be tougher to turn Republican. “The Senate’s a little tougher, but we’re going to be there,” he said.

Kaine also said he foresees the status quo when it comes to the Democratic leadership. Some Congressional candidates, in an effort to distance themselves from unpopular national figures, have criticized Pelosi or said she should step down as Speaker if Democrats maintain their majority.

“She’s done a marvelous job in a town where it’s difficult to do heavy lifts,” Kaine said. “She’ll stay Speaker.”

And Kaine thinks his own job is safe for the time being, too. When asked about his plans, Kaine said he had not talked with the president or anyone at the White House about a change in leadership at the DNC. “I’m doing what the president wants me to do,” he said.

Steele’s take on his troubled tenure at the RNC was more defensive. He acknowledged that the RNC has been outspent but pointed to 2009 fundraising records that were stronger than Democrats’ in seven months of the year, and he said he had created a grass-roots network that helped fuel Republicans’ strong showings this election.

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