Steele himself took the barrage with uncharacteristic calm, defending his tenure while largely avoiding directly confronting his adversaries. Steele acknowledged the debts, but he said the situation was not as dire as his rivals paint it. "I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. I don't see the crisis as some see it," he said.
Steele would have to stay optimistic to keep his cool on a stage that included former close allies who have turned on him. Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, formerly Steele's top ally on the committee, is now running for chairman himself, and Anuzis was appointed to an internal RNC committee during Steele's term.
Aside from citing the RNC's debt, candidates spent time defining themselves as best able to tackle the challenges they said Steele would leave behind. Cino stressed her experience turning around the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 1994 election cycle. Anuzis has made an effort during the campaign to reach out to big donors in hopes of securing their support. Priebus and Wagner both pointed to state parties they helped turn around after taking over operations in debt.
Steele, though, pointed to his own results, including midterm elections in which the GOP took back the House and made significant gains in the Senate. He got defensive only when defending a get-out-the-vote effort his rivals said had been underfunded. Listening to characterizations of the 72-hour program as inadequately funded is "a little bit frustrating," Steele said.
"I think we won in all 50 states this year. And that's the goal: Winning," he said. "My record stands for itself. We won."