January 30th, 2009
05:35 PM ET
7 months ago

Steele wins contentious RNC race

ALT TEXT

Michael Steele was picked Friday to be the RNC's first African-American chairman. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/File)

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Members of the Republican National Committee elected their first-ever African-American party chief on Friday, choosing former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to chair the organization after six tumultuous rounds of voting.

Watch: 'It's time for something completely different,' says Steele

The often contentious race for the chairmanship came down to a choice on the final ballot between Steele and Katon Dawson, the South Carolina GOP chairman who secured strong support from party insiders after former RNC leader Mike Duncan dropped out of the race earlier in the day.

Steele emerged as the winner on the sixth ballot, earning 91 votes to Dawson's 77.

"We're going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us," Steele told party members in his victory speech. "And to those of you who will obstruct, get ready to get knocked over."

For the duration of his campaign, Steele fought suspicions that he was too moderate to lead the party because of his blue state roots and his former membership in the Republican Leadership Council, a group that sought to curb the influence of social conservatives in the party.

"I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be," Steele told CNN earlier this month. "So this notion that I'm a moderate is slightly overblown, and quite frankly a lie."

Steele was similarly hampered by the perception that he was too much of an outsider to run the 168-member party, but he was able to demonstrate momentum in the final days of the campaign by rolling out a cluster of endorsements.

He also boasted the help of some of the country's top political consultants: At a closed-door question-and-answer session with members late Thursday, Steele told the crowd he had spent over $200,000 on the race, more than any other contender.

The new chairman brings a national profile to the committee, having shot to fame in the political world during an underdog Senate bid in 2006 distinguished by a series of clever TV commercials. He has since become a fixture on cable talk shows, experience that boosted his reputation as the most able communicator in the field of candidates.

During the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last summer, Steele made a splash by coining the phrase "Drill, baby, drill!," which quickly morphed into a rallying cry for the GOP base at campaign rallies around the country.

After Friday's final vote, Steele assembled a press conference and told reporters that the GOP needs to fix their "image problem" by focusing on "issues that touch the fabric of people's lives."

"We have been mis-defined as a party that doesn't care, a party that's insensitive, a party that is unconcerned about minorities, a party that is unconcerned about the lives and the expectations and dreams of average Americans," Steele said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Steele promised that the party will be run as a bottom-up organization and that the RNC will be "moved into the grassroots." But he offered few specifics on his plans to re-structure the party, saying only that he hopes to get fresh ideas from state parties.

"My expectation is that they're going to come to me with a plan, a strategy," he said of the states.

Steele's victory capped off a tumultuous day that saw six arduous rounds of voting and an acknowledgment of defeat from Duncan, who stepped aside after the third ballot, having bled support throughout the voting process.

"Obviously the winds of change are blowing here at the RNC," Duncan told party members, who gave him a standing ovation.

On the fourth ballot of the day, with many members no longer having to consider their loyalty to Duncan, Dawson rocketed into the lead with 62 votes, putting him ahead of Steele's 60.

But Dawson's short burst of momentum was blunted minutes later when former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell quit the race and surprised the audience by throwing his support behind Duncan. On the subsequent ballot, Steele picked up 19 votes while Dawson gained just seven.

Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, whose support topped out at 31 votes, dropped out after the fifth round of voting but did not endorse a candidate. Most of his supporters then backed Steele in the final vote.


Filed under: Michael Steele
soundoff (357 Responses)
  1. gero

    Shame on him. This is not a promotion for the African-American. Haaaaaaaaaaaaa do you see now, GOP is having interets to African-American. Thanks to President Barack.

    January 30, 2009 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  2. Proud of my party

    I could not be any PROUDER for MY party, not because Mr. Steele is black, but because he is a GOOD MAN and will lead us into a different direction.

    I take great offense to the previous postings on this election of today where you supposed progressives were calling him an Uncle Tom or hinting that the Republicans hate blacks and this is for PR.

    Lincoln freed the blacks and we NEVER had the head of our party a Klansmen like YOU DID.

    Michael Steele is a good man and should be the standard bearer for MY party and I love you bigoted geniuses that supported Obama, spewing your hate SOLELY because Steele happens to be black.

    You are as phony as your "messiah" and uh, uh, uh, uh, you want to talk about and empty suit, ARE YOU KIDDING?

    You KNOW nothing about Steele who is brilliant and fair minded and when a Republican deserves to be hammered he does it, and when a Democrat deserves praise, HE GIVES it.

    MY PARTY is NOT strictly the party of Rush Limbaugh no matter how much Keith Olbermann and the "messiah" tell you he is.

    I hate Rush TOTALLY, but more importantly for you geniuses, Let the "Uncle Tom" remarks from the phony

    I hate Rush TOTALLY, but more importantly for you geniuses, Let the "Uncle Tom" remarks from the phony progressives begin in 1,2, 3……………………………….

    CNN show some "audacity" and post a PRO-Steele remark.

    January 30, 2009 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  3. Not Amused

    He was obviously picked because of Obama. The RNC should be ashamed of themselves for thinking people are stupid enough to believe that Steele is who they REALLY wanted as the face of their party. As 'see thru' stated: "oh. please".

    January 30, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  4. CNN is not fair and balanced in blogs

    I could not be any PROUDER for MY party, not because Mr. Steele is black, but because he is a GOOD MAN and will lead us into a different direction.

    I take great offense to the previous postings on this election of today where you supposed progressives were calling him an Uncle Tom or hinting that the Republicans hate blacks and this is for PR.

    Lincoln freed the blacks and we NEVER had the head of our party a Klansmen like YOU DID.

    Michael Steele is a good man and should be the standard bearer for MY party and I love you bigoted geniuses that supported Obama, spewing your hate SOLELY because Steele happens to be black.

    You are as phony as your "messiah" and uh, uh, uh, uh, you want to talk about and empty suit, ARE YOU KIDDING?

    You KNOW nothing about Steele who is brilliant and fair minded and when a Republican deserves to be hammered he does it, and when a Democrat deserves praise, HE GIVES it.

    MY PARTY is NOT strictly the party of Rush Limbaugh no matter how much Keith Olbermann and the "messiah" tell you he is.

    I hate Rush TOTALLY, but more importantly for you geniuses, Let the "Uncle Tom" remarks from the phony progressives begin in 1,2, 3……………………………….

    CNN show some "audacity" and post a PRO-Steele remark.

    January 30, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  5. John, Brooklyn, New York

    Give me a break. This man can't get elected governor or senator from Maryland. With the Republicans screaming last year about the lack of President Obama's experience, they are certainly two-faced in selecting a man who has only served one term as lieutenant governor and currently holkds no office whatsoever.

    January 30, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  6. walter

    I am so proud of my Republican party for picking this great man Micheal Steele to lead our party that I cried when I heard it !! YIPPIE!!!

    January 30, 2009 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  7. Chaco

    First the Repubs pandered to the country with Palin (their version of Hillary, lol) and now again, pandering to us with Steele. He's the Fox News token. How he handles the RNC remains to be seen – he may be fine, but I'm tired of Republicans pandering just to keep up.

    January 30, 2009 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  8. Fred the moderate

    Wow, the GOP figured it out finally. You can't be an exclusive party in this new day. Times have changed and the ideology of the old dixiecrates turned GOP, has past on in scenes like a little black girl trying to go to school surrounded by national guard troops. What would have happened to her if not protected? Hanged at the school doors perhaps? The GOP took on that personna for decades. It is over! Hate is over! exclusion is over!

    I hope the GOP conversion experience was meaningful. Hate speech like that of Palin, Limbaugh, Colter and Hannity do nothing for this country but pull it apart. That is the one thing we don't need ever again!

    January 30, 2009 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  9. JT

    Please, the only reason that Steele was picked because the RNC is trying to gain more African-American support. They realized that they're out of touch and really wasn't showing any interest of any of the issues that even concern the African-Americans in this country. They did this with Palin trying to receive all the females voters, that didn't work. STOP TRYING TO PLAY THE RACE CARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 30, 2009 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  10. Peggy

    When will Americans stop fighting one another over political parties, your country is on its knees? You sound like Haitians, they fight one another, hate one another and finally killed the country and they still don't see that and they go on and on. This is exactly what Americans are doing. Afterall, whether we are the superpower of the world or a poor country, human beings are the same.

    January 30, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  11. beachgirl

    SURPRISE SURPRISE SURPRISE!!! are the Republicans worrying more with Obama at the WH???

    Interesting the time of this election for an African American in the Rep Party............ isn't it??

    January 30, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  12. Alisha, MN

    Setting up to Pander to the "Coloreds" huh!

    January 30, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  13. losano

    O please! They just want to attract more vote from black in chosing this guy. The difference with Pres. Obama is that Steel was picked by republican elites, but Obama was choosen by US citizen all over the country. That is theal breakthrough. However, congratulation Steel, but don't have a swelling head,now, for you realy don't have real power to get things done.

    January 30, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  14. Marcelo Jimenez

    Congratulations Mr. Steele! I hope you bring this party back to what it used to be. But, ummm, what do you think the odds are of Tool Shed Rush Limbaugh saying Steele was appointed because he was black? Buajajaja. Nah, I only bet on a sure thing.

    January 30, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  15. Jaime

    Not to begrudge his experience or value to his party, since I don't know him, but to me this seems very much like another one of the GOP's attempts to "re-invent" itself. But dress a a piece of crap up all you want, it's still a piece of crap.

    January 30, 2009 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  16. jj

    Obama gets my vote again!

    January 30, 2009 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  17. Open your eyes America!!!!

    Won't help the RNC or the GOP!!! Anyone with any sense knows that this PR..since when have the RNC gave a ***** about minorities??? They're just trying not to look racist!!! But trying not to look racist only proves that you are...it's a shame that they're boosting about the 1st black chairman of the RNC...toke a black president to make that happen...it's a lil too late guys...your time is UP!!! You all have been exposed!!!

    January 30, 2009 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  18. Shane

    Funny stuff: This guy is a true right winger. Get over the color that is for talking points. I have seen this guy speak out and he is the same right wing guy as all the rest of his party. His color might be good to help the GOP with a group that voted 90% against them in the last election but it changes nothing. His views are the same. GOP will have to move to center. PS point about Lincoln is funny. The dems are to the right of Lincoln!!! I wish Republicans would stop talking about Lincoln because the more they do they simply show how little they know about the man.

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  19. GiroGeezer, Calif.

    The question really is: Will he/does he worship at the alter of Trickle Down Economics, and will he/does he accept Ronald Reagan as his lord and savior?

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  20. Deborah

    Mr. Steele a real leader....? As a Marylander, I don't think so.

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  21. Dan, TX

    I am happy about this. Steele will put Rush Limbaugh in his place. The republican party is not as stupid as I thought.

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  22. L.V.

    First off I know why they picked him. I think it is obvious to the whole country. But the good thing for the GOP is that Micheal Steele is a real conservative and he is a capable leader. He will make for some good debates in the future... I would caution him against tailoring the GOP message to suit African-Americans too much. He can get away with it for a second but people wont take too much of it. Obama doesn't tailor his message for any particular ethnic or religious group. He is about reaching out to everybody. If Steele isn't careful he will alienate the white and Hispanic voters in his own party. So don't frame your discussion on how conservative principles benefit African-Americans in the name of inclusion because once you go down that path you are no longer being inclusive. Conservative principles have to be good for everybody otherwise a majority of voters wont vote for it. So congrats Mr. Steele... and I hope something positive comes out of your term as RNC chair. 1 more thing Mr. Steele...the GOP will never win the Presidency again until they LOUDLY denounce the 'Pallin around with Terrorists" crowd... and if I remember correctly.. you were part of that crowd, so it looks like you are already starting off in the hole. Anybody that carried that message with even a lick of breath in my opinion is not qualified to hold any office. Good Luck!

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  23. chuck

    REPUBLICANS --KEEP ON DREAMING ---PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA WILL WIN BY A LANDSLIDE IN 2012.

    January 30, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  24. Bob

    Goodbye CNN. I have always been a clean poster but lately, nothing I post gets posted, even on small articles. My email is correct and valid. I guess I just don't toe the party line like you think I should. Oh well.

    January 30, 2009 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  25. Susan

    Congrats to Mr. Steele but your party is still irrelevant and on the wrong side of every major issue.

    January 30, 2009 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
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