Steele is focus of speculation in Washington

November 10, 2006|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Paul West | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Paul West,Sun Reporters

WASHINGTON -- The White House declined to confirm speculation yesterday that Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who lost his bid for the Senate this week, was under consideration to run the national Republican Party or fill a spot in President Bush's Cabinet.

Several party insiders said Steele had been mentioned as a replacement for Ken Mehlman, the Maryland native who yesterday said he would not seek a second term as chairman of the Republican National Committee, or Alphonso R. Jackson, Bush's housing secretary. CNN first reported the speculation late yesterday.

"I don't know anything about either," said Tony Snow, the White House spokesman. "There are lots of rumors in the air."

Republican strategists and lobbyists say they expect turnover in the Bush administration after his party's staggering electoral losses this week, calling Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissal just the beginning of a broader reshuffling.

The White House is not knocking down such talk. Dan Bartlett, a top aide to Bush, told Fox News Channel that "there's always a natural attrition rate that happens after an election."

Snow said he "wouldn't be surprised" to see additional changes.

"There are a whole lot of people who have been here a long time, and it's pretty amazing, and I'd expect people, especially those who have been here from the start or near the start, not to be here until the very end," Snow said.

Steele, aggressively recruited by Bush's camp to run for the Senate, would be a prime candidate for a plum job in his administration after an unsuccessful bid that had substantial White House backing.

Mehlman said yesterday that he will step down from his post when his two-year term ends in January.

Steele is familiar with RNC affairs, having been a committee member when he served as state Republican Party chairman, a post he took over in December 2000.

Well-connected Republicans said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who lost his re-election bid this week, would also be a prime candidate for an administration appointment.

julie.davis@baltsun.com paul.west@baltsun.com

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