> JANUARY 31, 2009 > Wall Street Journal
> > WASHINGTON — Republicans chose their first African-American chairman, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, as GOP leaders sought to broaden the battered party’s ideological and regional appeal beyond its conservative, Southern base.
> > The move also represents a repudiation of President George W. Bush’s years as party leader. Mr. Steele, perceived by many Republicans as more moderate, was sometimes critical of Mr. Bush’s handling of key issues, such as the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. He had to dislodge Mr. Bush’s incumbent chairman, Mike Duncan, in early balloting on Friday, before securing victory on the sixth round of voting by the 168-member Republican National Committee.
> > Mr. Steele’s elevation poses a political challenge to Democrats, who have been riding a wave of public goodwill over President Barack Obama’s history-making victory last fall. The Georgetown University-trained lawyer and seasoned veteran of television talk shows is expected to become a highly visible spokesman for Republicans. His moderate views and charisma could help the party combat the impression that it is insensitive to minorities, working people and those with divergent views on social and economic issues. He’s also likely to bring more openness and diversity to the RNC.
> > In his victory speech, Mr. Steele promised something else that rank-and-file Republicans are hungry for — election wins.
> > “It’s time for something completely different, and we’re going to bring it to them,” Mr. Steele told the members of the RNC, after they elected him. “We’re going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community. And we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, ‘We want you to be a part of us.'”
> > Mr. Steele inherits enormous challenges. With control of the White House and both houses of Congress now in the Democrats’ hands, the GOP remains at a serious disadvantage in fund raising. It must make up ground in the use of the Internet and other technologies for and organization. Elements of the party’s conservative base remain dispirited and distrustful of the national party. And with the economy sliding into recession, the party lost badly among independents, younger voters and many minority groups in the 2008 elections.
> > Mr. Steele’s own path to victory was circuitous, and his success wasn’t assured until late Friday afternoon.
> > In recent weeks, Mr. Steele had mounted an energetic campaign for the chairmanship, running as a high-profile outsider. From the outset, his lack of membership on the RNC was perceived as a handicap. An even bigger concern was the perception that his politics were too moderate for the RNC, which is composed of one party chairman and two national committeemen per state and territory. Although Mr. Steele’s antiabortion, he said at a recent debate that he doesn’t own any firearms. He also had well-publicized clashes with the Bush White House, particularly as he campaigned unsuccessfully for one of Maryland’s U.S. Senate seats in 2006.
> > In the initial ballot Friday, Mr. Steele trailed the incumbent Mr. Duncan, a genial Kentucky banker, by 52-46, with three other candidates further behind. In the second round, Mr. Steele drew even with Mr. Duncan, then on the third ballot took a slight lead. That prompted Mr. Duncan to drop out, without endorsing any rivals.
> > On the fourth ballot, another white southerner, South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, took a slim lead. Then another African-American candidate, conservative former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, dropped out and urged his supporters to back Mr. Steele.
> > On the next ballot, Mr. Steele soared to 79 votes — just six short of the number needed to win. Then another moderate, reform-minded candidate, Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis, pulled out, all but assuring Mr. Steele’s success. On the sixth and final ballot, he won handily, defeating Mr. Dawson 91-77. Mr. Dawson might have been hurt by the fact that he had been a member, until recently, of a country club that had no black members.
> > After the voting, Mr. Steele was reminded that then-Sen. Obama had campaigned for Mr. Steele’s 2006 Senate rival, Democrat Ben Cardin, who won. “I would say to the new president: congratulations. It’s going to be an honor to spar with him,” he said.
> JANUARY 31, 2009 > Wall Street Journal