After nearly four hours and six rounds of voting, the Republican National Committee elected former Lt. Governor Michael Steele as its first-ever African American chairman. Evidently, Steele's rivals had failed to convince the 168-member committee that they could adapt to a post-racial, web-driven political era. Take Chip Saltsman, Mike Huckabee's ex-presidential campaign manager and an early candidate for the RNC seat who dropped out of the race after word spread that he had distributed a song called "Barack the Magic Negro" a few weeks after Obama's victory. The incumbent, Mike Duncan, was forced to admit during a campaign debate that he didn't use Twitter (gasp!), and Katon Dawson, the South Carolina Republican chairman, tried (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his membership from a white-only country club before the contest. Still, Steele maintained that race did not play a role in his victory, saying, "I am a Republican who happens to be African-American."
Born in 1958, Steele was adopted as an infant and raised on Andrews Air Force Base.
Though he grew up in a family of Democrats, Steele turned to the Republican party during the Reagan administration. Steele also credits his mother's refusal to go on welfare as a reason why the Gipper's message of self-reliance appealed to him.
A devout Catholic to this day, Steele spent three years in seminary studying for the priesthood, but decided to earn a law degree at Georgetown instead.
Before becoming the first African-American elected to statewide office in Maryland in 2003, Steele worked as a corporate securities attorney at the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in Washington, D.C.
He and his wife Andrea have two sons. His sister Monica was once married to Mike Tyson, and the former heavyweight boxing champion publicly endorsed Steele when he announced his candidacy in November, saying, "We have to open our eyes more."
Hillary Clinton's former research director Judd Legum released a bulletin about Steele's controversial record shortly after his election as RNC chair; reports alleged that Steele hired homeless people to pass out campaign flyers that portrayed him as a Democrat, and that he once compared stem cell research to Nazi Holocaust experiments.
Steele was the only candidate running for RNC chair who didn't own a gun.Quotes By:
"It's time for something completely different and we are going to bring it to them. This is our opportunity. I cannot do this by myself."
Delivering his victory speech on Friday (AP, Jan. 30, 2009)
"I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be. So this notion that I'm a moderate is slightly overblown, and quite frankly a lie."
On his ability to both lead and represent the GOP (CNN, Jan. 30, 2009)
"Yes, the number is growing, last time I checked 300 to 400."
When asked by the RNC if he had any "followers" on Twitter (Wall Street Journal, Jan 30, 2009)
"The winds of change are blowing at the RNC."
Mike Duncan, Steele's predecessor, who stepped aside after losing votes on each of the first three ballots (Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2009)
"Chairman Steele is among the most articulate spokesman our party has to offer."
Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick, chairman of the Virginia GOP after Steele's win; Steele has appeared on Fox's Hannity Colmes, Comedy Central's Colbert Report and HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2009)
"He's always going to speak his mind, which is why we have such a strong friendship."
Former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, after Steele jokingly likened the "R" denoting the Republican Party to a "scarlet letter" (CBS News, July 26, 2006)