By LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON (Jan. 31, 2009)—After six rounds of voting with as many as four opponents, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele emerged as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee Friday at the Hilton Hotel in Washington.
"He is a quality man with quality values," said Joyce Terhes, Maryland Republican Party national committeewoman, in her nomination speech for Steele.
After vacillating between first and second place in the first five rounds of voting, Steele won with a majority 91 out of 168 votes.
"We won it!" shouted Kevin Igoe after Steele's win. Igoe was as an alternate delegate from Owings, Md., at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Steele, who coined the phrase "Drill, baby, drill" at the 2008 convention, had to battle incumbent Chairman Mike Duncan; Ken Blackwell, another African-American contender and the former Ohio Secretary of State; Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Party; and Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP.
Throughout the six-hour election process, all signs pointed to "change" in the GOP.
"The winds of change are blowing at the RNC," Duncan said in withdrawing his name from the ballot after the third round.
In Blackwell's withdrawal speech before the fifth round of voting, he said, "in order to win an election one of two things must take place—a change in the electoral composition or a change in the electoral attitude." And with that, he shocked the RNC and Steele by announcing his full support of Steele for chairman.
And while Duncan's and Blackwell's withdrawal from the race helped sway votes to Steele, Blackwell's endorsement gave Steele the advantage.
But Steele has his work cut out for him.
"We need kind of a rejuvenation," said Jason Rheinstein, a guest of the delegation, a Baltimore attorney who also attended the Republican National Convention. "It will be difficult to rebuild what we had (as a party)."
"I think he is a true conservative," Rheinstein said. "We need moderates in this party."
Patt Parker, executive committee member of the Maryland State Party, said Steele's ability to communicate will be what restores glory to the GOP.
"(Steele) will be a face that people will want to see, not just because of his ethnicity, but because he believes in the message and it's contagious," said Parker, who was also a member of Steele's election committee.
Steele's experience as Maryland Republican Party chairman and as the lieutenant governor with a largely Democratic state gives hope to party members for the future of Maryland's and the national GOP.
After the 2008 national convention, Steele acknowledged the need for change and said, "We can't keep our heads in the sand and fall back into the old playbooks that we are comfortable with that quite frankly have no use anymore."
"It's time for something completely different," Steele said in his victory speech. To "friend and foe" he said "we want you to be a part of us." And to anyone who wants to "obstruct" his vision of progress, "get ready to get knocked over."
Jason Ready, executive director of the Maryland GOP, said Steele's sincerity as a person will resonate with voters.
"(Marylanders) need to know that our party has policies that will help them," he said. "Having (Steele) as chair will help get people motivated" and engage in the party, he continued.
Steele said the revamping of the Republican Party was a "bottom up effort" and said "I cannot do this on my own."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.