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Updated: Steele Off Message, Anderson Gone

Perhaps no one, other than Bob Ehrlich, did more to advance Michael Steele's national career than Maryland strategist Curt Anderson. That makes the Crofton consultant's decision this week to cut his ties with Steele particularly stunning.

Curt and his brother Wes Anderson run a highly regarded Republican media consulting shop, On Message Inc. They crafted the memorable 2006 campaign commercials that featured Senate candidate Steele and a cute Boston Terrier, The ads were bright spots in a losing effort and drew national attention for their creativity. (Click on the above example)Curt Anderson went on to play a central role in Steele's upset campaign for Republican National Chairman last year. His firm was rewarded with more than $480,000 in RNC work under Steele.But Monday's departure of Steele's chief of staff, Ken McKay, was apparently the final straw for Anderson, who took the highly unusual step of renouncing further business with Steele's RNC. He did not immediately respond to messages left at his office and on his cellphone. Anderson was instrumental in bringing McKay on board at party headquarters last year. At the time, the hiring of McKay was seen as a reassuring sign, especially by those who doubted that Steele was up to the job and were wondering if he would even be able to attract first-rate help.In a statement, Anderson called McKay's departure "a huge loss for the Republican Party.” Anderson said McKay had "steered the party through very successful elections last fall that have given us tremendous momentum. He’s a great talent."Anderson went on to say: "Given our firm’s commitments to campaigns all over the country we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC. We have high personal regard for the Chairman and always have; we wish him well.”The severing of relations with Steele's RNC by Anderson was surprising--not only the decision to forgo a lucrative client but what seemed to be a clear vote of no confidence by one of those who helped make Mike Steele.A Republican insider said that Anderson "checked out" because he "decided there is nothing he could do about the guy." He said that "Curt was getting in Steele's face" and Steele was increasingly resistant to his advice.The insider noted that Alex Castellanos, another leading strategist who was brought in as a special adviser, similarly walked away from Steele.They have been replaced by what this Republican termed "a team of enablers," including veterans of Steele's 2006 Maryland campaign.At the same time, this Republican--a former party official who spoke on condition of anonymity--said that Steele was justified in replacing McKay because the problems at RNC headquarters--including the party's budget deficit and spending embarrassments--are the staff chief's direct responsibility.Steele had indicated that he was taking steps to shake up the administration at party headquarters following the recent disclosure of nearly $2,000 in party funds spent at a West Hollywood topless club.McKay's departure was cast in that light. His replacement as Steele's top aide, Mike Leavitt, ran Steele's 2006 Senate campaign in Maryland. The latest top spokesman for the RNC (a challenging post under Steele) is Doug Heye, also a longtime Maryland associate. Steele and the RNC have yet to respond to Anderson. After McKay's departure became known, Steele told party leaders that he had dumped his top aide."Leadership requires that I can safely assure you, our donors, and the American people that our mission is what drives every dollar we spend, every phone call we make, every email we send and every event we organize,” Steele said in the email, first obtained by Politico. “Recent events have called that assurance into question and the buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in my management team and why I am confident about going forward to November with renewed focus and energy.”The firing made the news just one day before Ehrlich was scheduled to announce his third run for governor of Maryland. It was Ehrlich's decision to tap Steele, a party activist who never held elective office before, as his running mate that propelled the Prince George's County Republican into the job of lieutenant governor.Now, Ehrlich risks having Steele's widely publicized troubles overshadow his kickoff events. Certainly, Maryland Democrats are doing all they can to help that happen.In an email Tuesday morning, Isaac Salazar, the state Democratic Party's communications director, suggested six questions for reporters to ask Ehrlich.Number one: "What do you think of the job Michael Steele is doing at the RNC? Have you asked your Lt. Gov. to campaign for you?"

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