From The Washington Post:
The Republican National Committee elected Michael Steele as its first African American chairman today in Washington, a decision that came after an excruciating series of ballots that displayed a level of drama rarely seen in national politics.
On the sixth and final ballot Steele bested South Carolina Republican party Chairman Katon Dawson 91 to 77.
In picking Steele, who had previously served as the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, the state's lieutenant governor, and the GOP nominee in the Maryland Senate race in 2006, the party regulars seem to be acknowledging the need for new -- and different -- faces at the top of its food chain.
"The winds of change are blowing at the RNC," said current chair Mike Duncan who stepped aside after losing votes on each of the first three ballots.
After five ballots, the race came down to Steele and Dawson. Republican party strategists in attendance at the meeting openly fretted about the possibility of electing Dawson, who had acknowledged his membership in a whites-only club, and the signal it would send to a country that had just elected Obama as the nation's first black president.
Of Obama, Steele offered the president congratulations for his victory but also sought to send a message to the Democratic chief executive; "How do you like me now," Steele asked.
It was -- interestingly -- former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell who ultimately swung the race to Steele when he dropped out before the fifth ballot and endorsed the former lieutenant governor. The move was somewhat unexpected as Blackwell had staked out the turf as the most socially conservative candidate in the field while Steele had had to beat back rumors that he was not sufficiently conservative.
Steele faces a massive challenge to rebuild a party that faces significant organizational, financial and messaging hurdles.
The Democratic National Committee is up and running and will have the benefit of the 13 million person strong email list that Obama built during the primary. Democrats also have the luxury of controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Steele will provide a charismatic face at the top of the GOP but will be tested to show an ability to raise the money necessary to compete with the DNC in 2009 races (governors contests in Virginia and New Jersey) as well as the critical 2010 midterm elections.