The Republican National Committee elected Michael Steele of Maryland as its new chairman today.
He was far from a consensus choice and only obtained a majority of RNC members on the sixth ballot. Steele is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a frequent "talking head" on news analysis shows. He is black and pulled a significant share of the African-American vote in his losing bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006. On the other hand, he seemed to run away from the Republican label during that campaign. I don't see how other GOP candidates could pull that off.
Iowa RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler and Committeewoman Kim Lehman both supported South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who turned out to be Steele's toughest rival today. Don't ask me why Republicans who presumably want to start winning elections again would want the party's leader to be a southerner who was in an all-white country club when the GOP is looking more like a regional party than ever before and the Democratic president (who happens to be black) is wildly popular.
Anyway, Scheffler and Lehman didn't just prefer a different candidate for RNC chair, they went on record criticizing Steele:
Though the pro-life and pro-gun Steele built a conservative record in his home state, the former Maryland lieutenant governor's one-time affiliation with the Republican Leadership Council, which religious conservatives view as hostile to their agenda, remains a deal breaker in some sectors of the committee.
"That is an organization that created itself for the purpose of eliminating a very important part of the Republican Party and its family values," said Iowa Committeewoman Kim Lehman, who supports South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson's campaign. "Michael Steele crossed over a serious line."
"In that field, the only one that would be my number six out of six choice would be Michael Steele," said Iowa Committeeman Steve Scheffler, citing Steele's "past deep involvement with the Republican Leadership Council."
"They partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood," said Scheffler, who joined Lehman in endorsing Dawson. "In my view, you don't lend your name to a group if you don't agree with them."
It's fine by me if Lehman and Scheffler want to keep alienating Republican moderates, but I hope their open hostility to Steele doesn't jeopardize Iowa's first-in-the-nation status in 2012.
Getting back to the RNC competition, I was surprised that former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell turned out not to be a serious contender, despite lining up a long list of endorsements from conservative intellectuals. He dropped out after the fourth ballot today and endorsed Steele.
With Steele and Blackwell back in the news this month I've really missed Steve Gilliard, who used to write hilarious posts about them in 2006.
UPDATE: Holy cow. Dawson explains the roots of his political views. It basically comes down to being mad that the government desegregated his school when he was 15. Just the guy to give the GOP a more tolerant, inclusive image!
Apparently Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn endorsed the outgoing RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, earlier this week. Conservative blogger Iowans Rock doesn't understand why anyone would want to "reward failure" by keeping the same guy in charge of the party.
However, Krusty says Strawn backed Dawson today. That must have been after Duncan withdrew from the race. Krusty is somewhat concerned about Iowa remaining first in the presidential nominating process. One of Krusty's commenters says Lehman worked the phones to discourage other RNC members from supporting Steele.
SECOND UPDATE: Strawn, Scheffler and Lehman have only praise for Steele in their official statements:
RPI Chairman Matt Strawn:
"I am excited to work with Chairman Steele to advance our principled agenda, rebuild our party from the grassroots up, and elect Republicans all across Iowa. I am also encouraged by my conversations with Chairman Steele regarding Iowa's First in the Nation presidential status. I will work closely with him to ensure Iowa retains its leading role for the 2012 caucus and beyond"
National Committeeman Steve Scheffler:
"It is a new day. I am thrilled that our newly elected national party chairman, Michael Steele, is going to lead us to once again becoming the majority party--based on enunciating our winning conservative message, a 50 state strategy, and perfecting our technological and fundraising prowess."
National Committeewoman Kim Lehman:
"With sincere honor, I support and congratulate Chairman Steele. I look forward to working with him in the defense of families, our liberties and the security of our country. Chairman Steele has committed, with great clarity, his ability to bring this party back to its greatness, which transcends politics."