Today's debate for Republican National Committee chairman was supposed to be all about Michael Steele, especially after he announced he was running for re-election last month.
And for a while, it was.
Right off the bat, former Missouri GOP chairwoman Ann Wagner said the RNC was "broken and needs to be fixed." The complaint: The party, under Steele's leadership, mismanaged money and now finds itself in significant debt. "We fell down as a national committee," Wagner later added. "We have got to fully fund our state victory programs."
Said Michigan committeeman Saul Anuzis, who also ran against Steele in '09, delivered some implicit criticism. "I think we need someone who can make the trains run on time." The jab: The RNC trains under Steele weren't arriving or departing on time.
Ditto Wisconsin GOP chair Reince Priebus, who served as RNC general counsel during Steele's tenure: "We need a fully funded [get-out-the-vote] effort... It comes down to come, it comes down to resources."
For his part, a relatively subdued Steele defended his record, pointing to the GOP's numerous electoral wins in 2009 and 2010. "I'm a glass-half-full guy," he said. "I don't see crisis where some see it."
And although he admitted that the RNC last year changed its get-out-the-vote operation, Steele claimed he didn't abandon it. "We may have done it differently, but we found other ways to get resources. Find me a state that did not have a winning election -- because maybe they didn't have enough resources. But I think we won in all 50 states."
That said, Steele conceded that the greatest responsibility for the RNC chairman in 2011-12 is "dealing with the finances... That clearly will be a priority."
Yet outside of those exchanges, the debate was more about the candidates -- Steele, Wagner, Anuzis, Priebus, and former Bush administration official Maria Cino -- proving their conservative bona fides.
They all expressed their opposition to the Obama administration's policies, to abortion, and to same-sex marriage (though Steele wasn't as unequivocal as the other candidates were on this question).
Said Priebus: "If you are pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-GM bailout ... then you probably aren't a Republican."