*The make-or-break issue for Steele

THE MAKE-OR-BREAK ISSUE FOR STEELE…. Is RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s biggest problem: a) his habit of saying bizarre things in public; b) his contentious relationship with Rush Limbaugh and the party’s far-right base; c) his contentious relationship with the religious right movement; d) his non-existent relationship with Republican leaders on the Hill; or e) his inability to assemble a staff at RNC headquarters?

By some measures, it’s actually f) fundraising.

GOP strategists and party leaders are increasingly worried that the party’s run of bad news over the last month and a half is set to continue this week as the Republican National Committee (RNC) prepares to release what are expected to be markedly low fundraising numbers on Friday.

The RNC has consistently outraised the Democratic National Committee on a month-by-month basis. Observers say that streak is likely to end this month.

New RNC Chairman Michael Steele has committed gaffes that may embarrass his party in the short term, but Republican insiders say they are worried several of his actions will hit a fundraising trifecta: wounding party efforts to attract big donors, small donors and those who give on the Internet.

Continued low fundraising numbers would add yet more pressure to Steele, who has already faced criticism for his public gaffes and his private elimination of dozens of RNC staffers.

The combination of Steele’s odd behavior, his inability to hire a finance director, and his negligence in hiring a fundraising team will, in all likelihood, lead to a pretty weak report.

Alex Koppelman added, “For some time now, even in the Howard Dean days, the Republican National Committee has consistently brought in significantly more money than its Democratic counterpart. The RNC’s advantage has helped congressional candidates in lean times, and even brought John McCain at least a little closer to matching Barack Obama’s enormous campaign coffers last fall. But the glory days might be at an end for the GOP.”

If the numbers are awful for February, and show no improvement in March, expect to hear talk about Steele getting replaced pick up considerably. The party will tolerate quite a few embarrassing interviews, but it won’t tolerate empty campaign coffers.