US Republicans elect Steele first black chairman
Steele is regarded within the party as a skilled speaker who can help bring the Republican message to black Americans, Hispanics, other fast-growing groups.
The Republican Party picked its first black chairman on Friday as it elected former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele to rebuild the party after a string of devastating defeats.
Steele, 50, is regarded within the party as a skilled speaker who can help bring the Republican message to black Americans, Hispanics, suburbanites and other fast-growing groups that have shunned the party in recent years.
Steele has argued that as a high-profile Republican in a heavily Democratic state he knows how to talk to voters outside of the party's Southern stronghold.
"We're going to win again in the Northeast," he told the cheering crowd. "We're going to continue to win in the South. We're going to win with a new storm in the Midwest. And when we get to the West, we're going to lock it down and win there, too."
As Republican National Committee chairman, Steele will have to find a way to counter Democrat Barack Obama, who was sworn in as the country's first black president 11 days ago.
A former Roman Catholic seminarian and corporate attorney who used to be a brother-in-law of boxer Mike Tyson, Steele has promised to close the digital divide with Democrats who have used the Internet to raise record amounts of money and build an army of volunteers.
The Democratic Party elected its first black chairman, Ron Brown, in 1989.
Steele will be under intense pressure to deliver gains in the 2010 congressional elections, as well as the subsequent state-level redistricting process that determines legislative boundaries.
Many Republicans say the party merely needs to do a better job of communicating core ideas such as limited government and strong military, rather than softening its conservative philosophy.
Friday's vote was the first contested leadership race since 1997, before George W. Bush entered the White House.
Incumbent Mike Duncan, who was handpicked for the post by Bush in 2007, had hoped to hold on to the post but saw his support among the 168 committee members melt away after the first round of voting.
Some Republicans accused Steele of being insufficiently conservative because of his past association with a moderate-leaning group. But Steele received a boost when a black candidate popular with religious conservatives, former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell, dropped out and urged his supporters to back Steele.
Steele defeated the remaining candidate, South Carolina state chairman Katon Dawson, in the sixth round of voting. The final vote was 91-77.
Reuters Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2009, 14:43