Washington (CNN) - One of Michael Steele's challengers in the Republican National Committee chairman's race is questioning Steele's temperament and demanding that the chairman apologize after he called a veteran RNC member "an idiot" during a recent radio appearance.
The RNC Chairman used the term to describe Indiana Committeeman Jim Bopp, Jr., a longtime RNC member and vocal critic of Steele, after Bopp suggested last week that Steele was "playing the race card" in his re-election bid. Bopp was bothered by Steele's remarks during a conference call with RNC members to announce his bid for a second term, in which Steele said that his re-election would "speak volumes about our willingness to truly be the party of Lincoln."
Asked about Bopp's comment during an appearance on WBAL radio, Steele responded: "Well, Mr. Bopp is an idiot. If he took that away from, and I don't want to be crass and I don't want to throw stones at him but I just think that's an idiotic statement to make." Steele added that Bopp is bitter because he had a consulting contract with the RNC that was terminated.
The exchange sent Gentry Collins rushing to Bopp's defense on Tuesday. Collins, who served as the RNC's political director under Steele before launching his own campaign for the chairmanship earlier this month, questioned Steele's "temperament" and said the remark suggests "a complete lack of discipline demonstrating an unfitness for leadership of a national political party."
"It's no wonder major donors have been abandoning the RNC in record numbers," Collins said Tuesday. "When the Chairman engages in name-calling of members of his own committee, he diminishes the RNC, the office of Chairman, and himself. For the good of the Committee, he should publicly apologize to Mr. Bopp. I've known and worked with Jim Bopp both on the committee and on campaigns – it would be hard to find a more principled leader in our Party. Mr. Steele should be thanking him for his service, not slandering him over the public airwaves."
It should be noted that Bopp has not yet endorsed a candidate in the RNC race, and his stamp of approval would provide a boost to any challenger hoping to emerge as the strongest alternative to the controversial chairman.
Collins is one of five candidates running to topple Steele. Also in the race: Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner, Michigan committeeman Saul Anuzis and former Bush administration official Maria Cino.