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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

For more, we are going to turn to Michael Steele. He is the chairman of GOPAC, a political action committee working to elect Republicans to office. He's also the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a FOX News contributor. Thanks for coming back on the show.

Mr. MICHAEL STEELE (Chairman, GOPAC; Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland): It's good to be back with you. How's it going?

CHIDEYA: It's - things are going great.

Mr. STEELE: Great.

CHIDEYA: So the campaign isn't over. How has it changed just so far the fortunes of Republicans, including black Republicans?

Mr. STEELE: Oh, it's very difficult. I mean, the honest answer, which is the reality for the GOP is, since the 2006 election cycle, the GOP has been in a downward spiral for lack of new ideas, lack of connection to the voters. The brand is in very poor form. Between the war, the unpopularity of the Republican president has made it very, very difficult. Congressional seats, I predicted for two years now if we walk away at the end of this cycle with 170 to 175 members of the House it would be a blessing. I think the Dems will get close to 58, maybe 59 seats in the Senate. They won't hit the magic 60, but they will get right at the doorstep. So overall it is not a pretty picture.

Now having said that, the one bright spot has been John McCain. As one Democrat operative put it to me, leave it to the Democrats to nominate the one guy who could lose this year and the Republicans to nominate the one guy who could beat them. And that is - I think that's a testament to what we've seen get played out across the board here. That the Republicans are in this game because of the McCain campaign and because of his general resonance among the population. They've known him for a while. He's someone that they have some history with and can appreciate the various positions that he holds. And so it's made this race much closer than it otherwise would be. It doesn't change the dynamics necessarily for us downstream. I'm finding around the country that there's still struggles. But at the top of the ticket, there's at least a fighting chance.

CHIDEYA: All right. I actually want to play a little bit of you. I was in the hall during the Republican National Convention and there was a lot of love from the crowd.

(Soundbite of 2008 Republican National Convention)

Mr. STEELE: We are Americans prepared to reach out to each other for a cause greater than ourselves. We recognize that leadership is not often tested in good times, but rather during those times of uncertainty. When one's judgment, strength of character and experience comes together to reassure, to calm and to guide us.

CHIDEYA: Now what we didn't hear was a huge thunderous applause that you got from the crowd. Would you run for office again? And if so, what office?

Mr. STEELE: I do - I would like to run for office. I really believe very firmly in public service. I enjoyed my years as lieutenant governor. And, you know, as a small-government Republican, really began to appreciate beyond the rhetoric of just saying, you know, I want a smaller government, but really focusing on how you make government work for people and how you make it efficient - more efficient partner in our daily lives.

And so I walked away from the office with a great appreciation for the value of public service and the importance that you can play in helping small businesses, in getting healthcare where it needs to be, and in dealing with problems of crime and the things that lead up to people to do things that create problems in their community, recidivism, and drug addiction, and things like that. So yeah, I'd like to get back to it. I'd like to run for governor of Maryland one day. And we'll see if that ever happens. But yeah, it's on the table. I don't know if it's in the cards yet, but it's at least on the table.

CHIDEYA: So you're chair of GOPAC, and it aims to elect more Republicans into office. So what are you working on specifically this time around? Are there any races or any strategies you're working on?

Mr. STEELE: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I mean, we've got a number of races. For example, in the third congressional district in Georgia, we have a young woman, a doctor, medical doctor, Deborah Honeycutt, who's a very attractive African-American candidate for Congress running a very competitive race there. And we've got a number of state legislative races that we're involved in, even including here in the District of Columbia, Patrick Mara, who's running for the city council city-wide as an at-large member. The House race, House delegates race in California. If lightning strikes, we'll be able to elect the first African-American Republican in over 75 years to the state legislature in California. So there's some bright spots that we've been involved in.

And the key thing for me has been emphasizing the quality of leadership, having men and women who - to run - who represent the communities they come from. I can't run a conservative in a district that's largely moderate. Nor can I run a moderate in a district that's largely conservative. What we have to do is identify individuals who bring certain strengths relevant to the place they live, the community they're from, and have them go out and speak to those issues that are important to folks. And we're finding great success in doing that, and some of the proof will be in the pudding in November, whether or not any or all of them get elected, but at least it's a strategy that I've been trying to put into place over the past year. And so we'll see if it works, at least in terms of attracting the candidates and making races more competitive than they otherwise would be, particularly in a cycle like this, when the Republican brand, as I mentioned, is not the post popular thing in the neighborhood. And we're being competitive.

CHIDEYA: Give me - and this is going to have to be really tight - if you could do one thing that you think would bring more black votes to the Republican Party, what would it be?

Mr. STEELE: Talk to them. Actually engage the black community where they are. Stop thinking you're going to get by by having a handshake and a photo-op, and actually go and listen to black folks in the issues and the concerns they have and make them relevant to the platform of our party, make them important to the overall strategy of not just, you know, talking about the issues, but responding by listening first.

CHIDEYA: Well, thank you so much.

Mr. STEELE: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Michael Steele, chairman of GOPAC, a political action committee working to elect Republicans to office. He's also the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a Fox News contributor.

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