updated 3/18/2009 8:13:49 PM ET 2009-03-19T00:13:49

The Republican National Committee pulled in $5.1 million during Michael Steele's first month as chairman despite a rocky start that has drawn concern and complaints from corners of his party.

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The February sum is roughly the same as what the party raised in January before Steele was elected. It's also comparable to the amount Democrats collected in February 2005 when they were out of power in Congress and coming off a losing presidential election — just as Republicans are now.

Overall numbers released Wednesday show the RNC has $24 million in the bank and no debt.

'Strong financial position'
In a statement, Steele said the party was in a "strong financial position" because of a motivated base of supporters.

"We are building the organization we need to be successful in 2009 and beyond," he added.

The GOP money suggests Steele's out-of-the-gate missteps, including a comment that raised questions about his abortion opposition and criticism of fellow Republicans, may not have been as damaging to fundraising as some Republicans had feared, at least not in February.

Even so, a slight increase over the prior month's haul is all but certain to provide fodder to GOP critics who have cringed as Steele, with his off-the-cuff style and hefty appetite for the spotlight, took over the national GOP apparatus and became the public face of the beleaguered party.

More details about Steele's fundraising and spending will come Friday when the RNC files its February financial report with the Federal Election Commission. The Democratic National Committee has not yet released its figures.

In February, the RNC brought in $5.1 million compared with about $5 million in January. The party also reported $7 million more in transfers that month. Last month under Steele, the RNC also cut expenses by $2 million, a 40 percent reduction from January. It was attributed largely to a smaller staff and the chairman bidding out previously no-bid contracts.

By comparison, the DNC raised $6.5 million during February 2005 when their party was out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. That included a $1 million transfer from failed presidential candidate John Kerry. Midway through that month, Howard Dean took over the DNC and, like Steele, got off to a rough start that irked the party's establishment.

'A tough environment'
Steele's aides emphasized the disadvantages of being the party out of power.

"It's a tough environment, but he's focused like a laser on making sure Republicans have the resources needed to win elections," said Jim Dyke, a Steele adviser. "People will want to make snap judgments and assessments, but this is going to take some time. We're in a different position now. He recognizes there's a lot of work to do."

Republicans face an emboldened and energized Democratic Party led by President Barack Obama, a prolific fundraiser who shattered money records in his campaign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., too, draws in big cash.

Fundraising typically is the single biggest priority for the chairman of a party out of power, and, given the Democratic machine he's up against, Steele is no exception. Thus, over the next few months, the numbers he puts up will serve as one measure of his effectiveness.

There are worries inside Washington's GOP that Steele's eagerness to take on fellow Republicans, including moderates from the Northeast and talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, had turned off some in the party. Another concern is that perennial big donors would question Steele's management because of his quick decision to fire much of the headquarters staff as he embarked on a wholesale reorganization.

Several tests ahead
Steele faces other tests, including three elections where Republicans have strong chances of winning. A special election is set for March 31 in upstate New York to fill a vacant congressional seat, a race in which Steele has steered $200,000. New Jersey and Virginia elect governors later this year.

Despite griping in Washington, Steele enjoys broad support from state party chairmen and grass-roots activists who welcome a fresh face after crushing losses on George W. Bush's watch.

However, Steele's latest headline-grabbing comment drew rebukes from high-profile social conservatives, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. They chastised Steele for saying in a magazine interview that abortion was "an individual choice." He later clarified that he opposes abortion and believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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