Liz Sidoti, AP, January 30, 2009
The Republican Party chose the first black national chairman in its history Friday, just shy of three months after the nation elected a Democrat as the first African-American president. The choice marked no less than “the dawn of a new party,” declared the new GOP chairman, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Republicans chose Steele over four other candidates, including former President George W. Bush’s hand-picked GOP chief, who bowed out declaring, “Obviously the winds of change are blowing.”
Steele, an attorney, is a conservative, but he was considered the most moderate of the five candidates running.
He was also considered an outsider because he’s not a member of the Republican National Committee. But the 168-member RNC clearly signaled it wanted a change after eight years of Bush largely dictating its every move as the party’s standard-bearer.
Steele became the first black candidate elected to statewide office in Maryland in 2003, and he made an unsuccessful Senate run in 2006. Currently, he serves as chairman of GOPAC, an organization that recruits and trains Republican political candidates, and in that role he has been a frequent presence on the talk show circuit.
He vowed to expand the reach of the party by competing for every group, everywhere.
“We’re going to say to friend and foe alike: ‘We want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us.’ And for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over,” Steele said.
“There is not one inch of ground that we’re going to cede to anybody,” he added.
“This is the dawn of a new party moving in a new direction with strength and conviction.”
In the sixth and final round of voting, Steele went head-to-head with his only remaining opponent, South Carolina GOP chief Katon Dawson. Steele clinched the election with 91 votes; a majority of 85 committee members was needed.
Just eight years after Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress, the GOP finds itself out of power, without a standard-bearer and trying to figure out how to rebound while its foe seems to grow ever stronger.