January 30th, 2009
05:35 PM ET
9 years ago

Steele wins contentious RNC race


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. God Bless the U.S.A

    the republicans use people , they don't care anything about them, they just suck the air right out of them, then they toss them to the wolves.

    January 30, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  2. janet, ohio

    I just have to say this: You ignorant sheep liberals would not be happy about ANY choice the republicans made so we do not care what you think anyway.

    And then I have to say this: You ignorant sheep liberals have something in common with the KKK and Nazis and Aryans: YOU are the only ones who give a RAT'S A$$!@#%^&* what color anybody is!!!!!!!!

    January 30, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  3. MAD

    I must admit, this pick for RNC chair is fasinating. However, I have to agree with the blogger who said that it took the Dems and Independents electing a African American President to light a fire under the Rep. party. Way too little, way too late...

    January 30, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  4. me too, ME TOO, I can put a black man in charge too

    I hope this works for them, because it smells of 'me too' thinking

    January 30, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  5. Adele

    It seems the GOP picked Mr. Steele because this is the face they feel will unite their party. Lets wish him the best and hope he can bring peace to their party which is badly damaged. I feel it will take a lot to bring people of color over to the republican side. They destroyed their fabric with the way they ran their campaign. I wonder if Mr. Steele is one of the people in small town America that McCain/Palin was referring to.

    January 30, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  6. Ha Ha!

    I'm waiting Rush – When are you going to say that they picked Shelby Steele because he's BLACK! The Republican's are a joke. Steele's a bigger self-hating joke. Remember he wrote a book on Why Barack Can't Win...Ha, Ha! Wrong then, wrong now – losers!

    January 30, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  7. jumbo

    sounds like the democrats can t stan derveristy....women vp , black head of the party ... you dont get it donkey heads ,,,

    January 30, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  8. Me Down South

    It's just a matter of time before YOUR OWN party cuts you down Lt Gov Steele.... cuz they really don't like you. As soon as you start making waves, the backstabbing will start . Good luck to you.

    January 30, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  9. NeoCon


    January 30, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  10. Dittohead

    nice the libs still focus on race. i am waiting for the uncle tom comments to come from the talent on the left.

    good luck mr. steele. lets win.

    January 30, 2009 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  11. Kim SC

    Mr. Steele is very qualified to lead the Republicans and I am excited for him.

    January 30, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. jpegs

    Wow, how original of them.

    January 30, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  13. michael

    This is what the repudlumbs have brought themselves to. after all they are the moral authority; ( so they think ). they now are so well known for scandels, lies, perversion and hold on to power at any cost that you automatically suspect them of doing something shady. aren't you proud to be a sleezy republican?

    January 30, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  14. Brandon

    Good choice. The stimulus package will not work, just another spending spree by the Democrats. Eliminate the pork focus on securing and creating jobs, relieving the devastated housing market and then maybe I can support it.

    Steele will reunite the GOP and lead us in a new direction. Looking forward to 2012.

    Huckabee-Jindal 2012

    January 30, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  15. Ula Nejad

    Majority of Americans are ignorant when it comes to world history or current events . They rather watch super bowl then know what the hell is globalism and ethno-nationalism. Now wonder the country is lost. Mr Steele will have to take America back and hand it over to the 'whiteys' not because he has to it is the right thing to do. The 2008 votes speaks for itself. Wish him all the best. A personal challenge well worth it.

    January 30, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  16. sr

    wow. anyone ever read all of the "liberal" hate that spews forth on these blogs? Which "side" is full of hate and divisiveness?

    January 30, 2009 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  17. Chris in Florida

    Some serious desperation here by the repubs...LOL. I wonder what Rush Limburger has got to say about this now..lolol.

    January 30, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  18. California Gold

    Well "Proud of my party" the problems many people have with the Republican Party are numerous. Suffice it to say, the GOP has a "base" and the "base" was sought after and vociferously supported Palin and McCain during the November 2008 election. Those rallies were very divisive and were based on lines of color, creed, race, etc. The Republican ticket sent a message every news day, to wit: only certain Americans were "Real Americans". The hate, "kill him" chants, and demeaning conduct put a face on the GOP that many felt defined Republicans. It was validation of how the GOP made us feel. Long after we forget the words that were said and the votes cast, people always remember how they were made to feel.

    January 30, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  19. Sandy

    Wonder if Steele will be welcomed at the Palin rallies?

    January 30, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  20. Corey W

    He's being used "like a cheap suite", the Repubs are playing the race card with Steele. These people will not reach out too the minority (AA, Asian, and Latino communities) these people are self-serving......

    January 30, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  21. khelley

    Whether you are black or white, white & black, yelow, red or pink, male or female, straight or gay, dead or alive, Americans are just tired of the republican ideology. " More power and more wealth to the already powerful and wealthy " leaving the people as an audience to an everlasting tragic play that will never meet their expectation. the RNC, sing us a different song, tell us a different story, and play us a different trick, if not we are leaving your theater.

    January 30, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  22. Texas Teacher

    Pffft... does no one notice that the Republicans are doing whatever they think will help them? Too hell with the Democrats who naively continue to court them... that only gives the appearance of POWER!

    Please, Please... wake up before it is too late!!

    January 30, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  23. Lisa - MD

    Steel is an idiot, he couldn't even win an election running for Governor in MD. This dude is a complete token black man for the GOP, and anyone can see through that fake smile. If Obama didn't win, I would bet a million dollars her wouldn't even have had a chance to win this bid. It's amazing how some people don't mind being used in ploys, just to get ahead.

    GOP: do you think this will get you more votes in the future. Intelligent people see through your crap, and you will loose even more.

    January 30, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  24. Wow

    This is nothing but window dressing to attract blacks and other minorities. Most blacks like myself can see right through this. The Repubs are just using Steele to mudsling against Obama. He is being used to say the things that they know they would not be able to get away with. So all they have to do is stand in the background and use him as a puppet . And in doing so they will not hurt their reelection chances.

    January 30, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  25. Mike Dallas

    The real head of the Republican party is Lush Limprick and he is gonna chew this guy up and spit him out!

    The KKK rednecks will HATE this choice and the bible beaters will say he is too moderate.

    Watching this train-wreck in waiting is going to be fun!!

    January 30, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
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