Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Friday praised tea party activists and dismissed the suggestion that their recent triumphs would hurt his party in key races this fall.
"What political analysis gets you to the conclusion that ... there's a disconnect between them and us when we're fighting for the same issues?" he said after a GOP rally. "It doesn't make much sense to me."
Steele, on his "Fire Pelosi" bus tour, spoke to around 100 GOP supporters at a Rock Hill campaign headquarters. On Wednesday his tour stopped in North Carolina, where he was joined by 8th District Republican Harold Johnson in Raleigh and Fayetteville. Friday's South Carolina tour concluded with stops in Columbia and Charleston.
The tour is designed to fire up supporters, many of whom held red "Fire Pelosi" signs. Steele called the Democratic House Speaker from California "symbolic of the trouble in Washington."
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He urged Republicans "to take it to the streets."
"You all remember 2006 and 2008," he said, referring to elections in which his party lost big. "Now the American people are giving us another opportunity. Let's not blow it."
Introducing Steele, S.C. GOP Chair Karen Floyd cheered his support for the tea party.
"He has embraced the tea party like none other," she said. "He understands ...that this is a grass-roots movement."
After Steele touted S.C. gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, 5th District candidate Mick Mulvaney and other GOP candidates, he singled out S.C. Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
DeMint, along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was one of few prominent Republicans to back Christine O'Donnell, the tea party favorite who this week upset a veteran GOP congressman for the Senate nomination in Delaware.
"I thank Jim DeMint for standing with Christine O'Donnell," Steele said to cheers.
Polls have suggested that her nomination may give the otherwise winnable seat to Democrats. Even President Bush's former adviser Karl Rove - before apparently changing his mind - accused O'Donnell of saying "nutty things" and said she'll make it hard for the party to win the seat.
Joe Thompson, head of the S.C. District 5 Patriots, applauded by Floyd and Steele, said he expects any party rifts to heal.
"I think cooler heads will prevail," he said. "They know what they've got to do to make a difference, and that is beat the Democrats."
But S.C. Democratic Chair Carol Fowler said Steele is trying "to put the best face" on a genuine split within his party, if not in South Carolina, then elsewhere.
"It appears to me that his party in many places is pretty badly split," she said. "I guess he has to be the referee and he's trying to put the best face on it. But there are Republicans who are fighting each other much harder than they are Democrats."
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said while there may be peace in the S.C. GOP for the moment, divisions exist. Last month GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham was censured by the Greenville GOP executive committee. The maverick Republican has also been censured by GOP party committees in Lexington and Charleston counties.
While Steele's mention of DeMint drew cheers, his shout-out to Graham was met with awkward silence.
"If you can figure out how to keep the family together over the Thanksgiving table in South Carolina, you can do it anywhere," said Huffmon.