Continued from page 1

The spark for the clash came when Mr. Steele replaced longtime RNC Chief Financial Officer Jay Banning, trusted by successive national chairmen and RNC treasurers for nearly 40 years.

The Pullen resolution would make it a written rule that contracts of $100,000 or more be open to competitive bidding; that all checks be signed by two RNC officers; that party staff be prohibited from signing on behalf of an officer; and that all contracts be reviewed and approved by the members of the RNC executive committee.

There were signs that Mr. Steele’s defenders were rising to the challenge.

“I have confidence in our new chairman and his judgment,” said Holly J. Hughes, an RNC member from Michigan, in an e-mail to Mr. Pullen. “I want to give him a chance before second-guessing him. I am sorry, but I cannot support this.”

Ginny Haines, an RNC member from New Jersey, wrote, “Were the policies and procedures which you are asking for in this resolution in place before Chairman Steele, if not, why are they necessary now?”

The discord comes as the Republican Party, already on the ropes after defeats in the 2008 elections, was hit with two more blows in recent days - the loss of a close House special election in upstate New York on Friday and the defection of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democrats on Tuesday.

Mr. Steele has been hammered recently for criticizing conservative icon Rush Limbaugh’s radio show as “incendiary” and “ugly.”

He then apologized to Mr. Limbaugh, saying his words came out wrong, but later said such apparent mistakes were actually part of a strategy to get his enemies to unmask themselves.

Mr. Steele also has had to defend himself for having belonged to two centrist Republican groups - the Republican Main Street Partnership and the Republican Leadership Council - before running for RNC chairman as a conservative and a reformer.