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Mr. Steele’s campaign — particularly his humorous TV ads and his nationally televised debate against Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — impressed many conservative Republicans.

“Michael Steele would make a superb Republican National Committee chairman,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times. “His race for the Senate was probably the most positive and most likable of any race in 2006.”

“Steele ran one of the best Senate campaigns in the country,” said North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry. “Steele would be great in a prominent and strategy-making spot in the party.”

“Everybody I know down here who got a chance to see Steele’s campaign ads thought they were great — they had substance, and so does he,” said Cindy Costa, a South Carolina RNC member from Charleston.

Two months after taking office, Mr. Martinez was involved in an incident that caused Republicans embarrassment in the Terri Schiavo case, when — as he later explained — he accidentally handed Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, a memo describing political motivations for the high-profile congressional effort to save the incapacitated Florida woman’s life.

“This is an important moral issue, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue,” said the March 2005 memo, written by a Martinez aide. “This is a great political issue because Senator [Bill] Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor, and this is a tough issue for Democrats.”

Some RNC members yesterday saw the naming of Mr. Martinez as a continuing tendency of the Bush administration to manipulate the national party.

Jon Ward contributed to this article.