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Coleman Won’t Run but Not Endorsing Steele, Either

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) won’t run against Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele but won’t endorse him either.

Coleman told Roll Call in a telephone interview Wednesday morning that he would honor a commitment he made to Steele not to seek the position if the chairman opted to run for a second term.

But Coleman cautioned his decision not to challenge Steele should not be interpreted as an endorsement, suggesting that he might very well back another candidate in the RNC leadership elections scheduled for Jan. 14. Coleman declined to explicitly criticize Steele or call for him to step aside.

But, similar to how a few key sitting Republican Senators have signaled their desire for new leadership at the RNC, Coleman noted that the committee is in danger of becoming irrelevant after suffering a significant drop in fundraising and strategic effectiveness since Steele became chairman in 2009.

“There are challenges the RNC has to address if it is to be an effective force in 2012,” Coleman said.

Coleman served one Senate term, losing a close and controversial election to current Sen. Al Franken (D) in a 2008 campaign that wasn’t decided until a final court ruling was rendered in June 2009. During the 2010 cycle, Coleman helped found and run the American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3), and its sister organization, American Action Network, a 501(c)(4). Coleman said he plans to remain active in those advocacy groups over the next two years.

Republican strategists following the RNC chairman contest have speculated that Coleman was leaning against running for the position even if Steele had chosen to step aside. Coleman declined to participate in that speculation, saying only that he remains concerned about the state of the RNC and considers himself “more than an idle bystander in the process” of determining the committee’s leadership.

Among Coleman’s top concerns are the RNC’s fundraising performance under Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and first African-American to lead the committee. In particular, Coleman said the RNC must improve its fundraising among major donors, who include contributors that give in excess of $25,000. Coleman said the RNC also needs to address its vendor debt and vastly improve its funding of the state GOP parties.

“My not running is not an endorsement of the chairman,” Coleman said, adding: “I’m still willing to provide service to my party.”

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