US Republicans elect first African-American chairman

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Michael Steele
Image: Steele for Chairman.

The Republican National Committee has elected African-American Michael S. Steele as its chairman.

Steele, 50, a former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, won after the sixth round of voting against Katon Dawson of South Carolina. Steele's candidacy was controversial as he was seen as being on the left of his party's base and had been a member of the Republican Leadership Council, an anti-social-conservatism movement. He had denied being a moderate, telling CNN: "I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be."

Steele has an agenda of reform for his party. In addition to the election of Barack Obama of the opposing Democrats in the presidential election of 2008, the Democrats gained eight seats in the Senate and 21 seats in the House. He told the media that the Republicans have an image problem, being thought of as a party that is "insensitive, a party that is unconcerned about minorities, a party that is unconcerned about the lives and the expectations and dreams of average Americans."

According to the BBC, the Republicans are aware of not being able to reach the country's non-white population, a job made tougher by the Democrats having a very visible mixed-race leader in the White House.

When campaigning for the United States Senate in 2006, Steele had been a vocal critic of then-President George W. Bush. In an off-the-record press lunch, which within 24 hours had his name attached to it, he had loudly criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq War and the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort. He told reporters that standing as a Republican at that time was like being branded, saying "I've got an R here, a scarlet letter."

The Republican National Committee develops and promotes the Republican Party's political platform and coordinates fundraising and election strategy. Steele spent more than $200,000 on his Convention election campaign.


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