NPR logo Steele Elected RNC Chairman; First Black To Head GOP

Steele Elected RNC Chairman; First Black To Head GOP

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele holds a gavel after he was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 in Washington. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais hide caption

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

On a day where momentum shifted and hopes were raised and dashed, Michael Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the party's Senate nominee in 2006, Steele is the first African-American to lead the Republican Party. Democrats broke the party chair color barrier in 1989 with the election of Ron Brown.

Steele defeated a field that included South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, Michigan party Chairman Saul Anuzis, former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, and Mike Duncan, who had been the RNC chairman since 2007, when he was named by President Bush.

Steele defeated Dawson on the sixth ballot by a vote of 91 to 77. Eighty-five votes were needed to win.

In a rousing speech after the balloting was over, Steele promised to make the party's case in all parts of the country, especially in areas where the GOP has not won in recent years — the Northeast and the West Coast.

Having lost the White House in 2008 after eight years of control, as well as both houses of Congress in 2006, the party is trying to find its way. In Steele, they have a charismatic figure who by his many appearances on the Fox News Channel is a familiar face to many Americans.

After having served in county and state Republican politics, Steele was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in 2002 on the ticket headed by Bob Ehrlich — the first Republican to win the governorship in the state in 36 years.