ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Tahman Bradley report: Michael Steele told National Public Radio Tuesday that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is backing the former lieutenant governor of Maryland in his bid to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
"Newt’s decided not to run for the job, and he’s, in fact, supporting me in my efforts,” Steele told NPR.
Listen to the interview HERE.
"Newt is an idea guy," Steele added. "He’s the professor, he’s the thinker. He’s the one who crystallizes emotions and policy and opportunity all into a package that helps the party begin to speak with clarity on some of these complex issues. I’m very happy to have him help me do that."
Not so fast.
Steele’s comments to NPR suggest that he has won Gingrich’s endorsement for RNC chair, which is not the case, a Gingrich spokesman told ABC News.
"Newt is not endorsing anybody … and is not planning to endorse anyone," Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis said.
"Michael is one of several RNC candidates who are running that he thinks would make a good RNC chairman," but the former House speaker is not showing a preference for anyone in particular, he added.
In a Nov. 12 interview on the Fox News program "Hannity and Colmes," Gingrich praised Steele as a "great, great talent" when the possibility of Steele ascending to GOP chairman came up.
"He certainly would offer the kind of vivid, strong voice that we could use, and I think that the party would do very well if he ends up being chairman," said Gingrich.
"There are a number of other strong people who are running. The chairman of South Carolina is very effective, good friend of mine. Saul Anuzis, the chairman from Michigan, is running. But Michael Steele certainly is going to be in the front ranks…"
RNC members are slated to choose their next chairman when they meet in January. The party chairman will be responsible for helping the GOP regain power after a 2008 election which saw Democrats win the White House and strengthen their grip on the House and Senate.
Steele, who is African-American, made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Since then, he has stayed active with GOPAC, an organization which backs conservative candidates for office.