Change has come to the GOP.
Former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele won the Republican National Committee chairman’s race, becoming the first African American to lead the party. He received a total of 91 votes in the sixth round of voting.
The cheers and applause were so loudly enthusiastic, that few people actually heard how many votes competitor Katon Dawson, the South Carolina party chairman who ended his membership in a whites-only country club before announcing his entry into the race, received in the end. He garnered 77 votes.
Steele’s initial reaction? “Awesome.” He said that in 2002, when he was a member of the national committee, like those who voted for him today, he never imagined this day would come.
“We’re going to take this party to every corner, every boardroom, neighborhood, and community. And we’re going to say to friend a foe alike that we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us. And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over,” Steele said in his acceptance remarks. He also pledged to rebuild the party in every region of the nation, much like the 50-state strategy that helped bring the Democrats to victory in 2008.
“We can be very excited that our new chairman represents all that’s great about our party—the ability to succeed based on hard work and dedication. I believe that Chairman Steele will be able to talk to people across racial, income and geographic boundaries,” said RNC spokesman Sean Conner.
Mykel Harris, an African American who chairs the Republican Central Committee in Prince George’s County, Md., was ecstatic over Steele’s win and can’t believe he pulled it off.
“Steele is the guy to remove the dead wood, get us back on track and refocus us on where we ought to be,” who believes that the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King that blacks be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of skin is actually starting to be realized. Harris also suspects that not all Republicans may be on board with Chairman Steele at the moment, “But they’ll get behind him because that’s how the Republican Party works.”
In a surprising move, incumbent Chairman Mike Duncan withdrew from race. “Obviously the winds of change are blowing,” he said, before announcing his withdrawal. Thursday night, Chip Saltzman dropped out of the race.
After three rounds of ballots, Steele was giving Duncan a run for the money. Before Duncan bowed out, political strategist Jebb Young, said, “He’s going to take the money.”
In rounds one through three, Steele received 46. 48, and 51 votes, respectively. Duncan’s numbers moved downward, from 52 to 48 to 44. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state and the other black candidate in the chairman’s race, was following the same trend, with 20 votes in the first round and 15 in the third. Eighty-five votes were needed to win.