RNC Elects Michael Steele Chairman

Michael Steele Wins It

It took six ballots and a lot of persistence, but Michael Steele has just become the first African-American to be chairman of the Replubilcan National Committee.  (He’s the second black chairman of either major party, the first being the late Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown chosen in 1989).
If you’re prepared to be an obstructionist, “Get ready to be knocked over,” Steele told a cheering crowd at the Capitol Hilton, moments after he defeated South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson by a vote of 91 to 77.
Steele, a former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, referred to the GOP as a “conservative party” and promised Republicans could expect “something different.” 
Twelve of the twenty votes of Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis gave Steele a comfortable win.  In addition, a number of RNC members who backed Steele clearly felt it was a better image for the party to have a black chairman than a chairman from the South.
“I voted for Steele because I flet he had the right face for the party,” New York Chairman Joe Mondello told me minutes after the vote.
As to what Saul Anuzis, Ken Blackwell, or any of the runners-up got after exiting the race–if anything–that is unclear.  For the first time, the Republican National Convention in ’08 relinquished its role in choosing the rules for nominating a President in the next cycle and turned over the rules process to a special RNC panel/commission.  Already there was speculation that Anuzis and Blackwell would play a role in the process.

Recess Called After Ballot 5: Decision Coming Soon
Moments after RNC Co-Chairman JoAnne Davidson announced the result of the fifth ballot and called for a fifteen minute recess at the election of a new chairman, Michigan’s Saul Anuzis exited the race.  Unlike Ken Blackwell (who endorsed Michael Steele), the man from Michigan endorsed no one.
So with Steele (79 votes) five shy of victory and Soiuth Carolina’s Katon Dawson (69 votes), the question as to where Anuzis’ twenty votes go on ballot six are pivotal to which of the top two becomes the new RNC head.
“They could go either way,” veteran Illiinois political consultant Bill Pascoe “There is the theory that because Katon is on the committee and so is Saul, the insiders will put Katon over.  But then again, Michael Steele is so close, they may not want to deny him a win–and becoming the first black national chairman of the Republican Party.”
As the 168 RNC members flooded into the hallways  outiside the ballroom, there were hushed conversations and possible deal-making.  At this the numbers favor Steele, but the “insider tradition” still gives Dawson a fighting chance.  In the last two contested chiarman’s elections came from inside the committee.

Blackwell Out At Fourth, Backs Steele
Events are moving rapidly at the Capitol Hilton Hotel here in Washington.  On the fourth ballot in the race for RNC chairman, South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson leaped into first place with 62 votes, benefiting from the exodus of incumbent RNC head Mike Duncan and outpacing Maryland’s Michael Steele (60 votes).
No sooner were the results announced than former Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell–who had sworn to me earlier he had a “multi-ballot strategy” and was in to the end–withdrew.  In a big surprise, Blackwell drew gasps from the audience by endorsing “my good friend Michael Steele.”

It was a surprise because the two are not close friends and many on the RNC who backed Blackwell were the same members who accused Steele of being less than true-blue conservative.
Michigan’s Saul Anuzis was hanging firm at 31 vores.  A fellow Michiganian and political consultant told me moments ago, “If Saul doesn’t gain on the next ballot, he’ll have to get out.”  Anuzis and Dawson are personal friends–albeit competitive–and it is likely he would back Dawson.
As to whether Blackwell’s votes put Steele over the top, it is less than certain.  Unless one is Mayor Daley and can control the job of someone doing the voting, it is unlikely he or she can “throw support” anywhere else.  In 1997, Ohio Chairman Bob Bennett withdrew from the national chairman’s race after the first ballot and called on his sixteen supporters to back Michigan’s Chuck Yob for the chairmanship.  Only one voted for Yob on the next ballot and Jim Nicholson of Colorado came from behind and won.

After just over two hours and three ballots, predictions that sitting Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan would lead early and then lose steam are being borne out.  Moments ago, the good-natured Kentuckian called it quits and got out of the race.

Huddled with close advisor and Massachusetts RNC member Ron Kaufman, Duncan decided moments before his loss of votes on the third ballot meant there was no way he could hold on to the job that the Bush White House named him to two years ago.

As Duncan addressed the RNC members at the ballroom of the Capital Hilton and thanked supporters, the deal-making was fast and furious.  Clearly, the most attention was on former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele, who placed a close second to Duncan on the first two ballots and them moved up to first place (51 votes) on the third.

“So you’ve got to watch Michael and you’ve got to watch Katon,” veteran GOP operative Chris Henick, a supporter of South Carolina State Chairman Katon Dawson, told me.  “They are going to go for Mr. Inside [a reference to Steele and his campaign run by RNC consultants and contractors] or Mr. Outside [Dawson].”  

A close political associate of Rudy Giuliani, Henick helped run the winning campaign of Haley Barbour for RNC chairman in 1993 and the losing bid of then-New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill for chairman in 1997.

Is deal-making now in process?  I can’t say for sure but I would bet the farm on it.  Dawson, who has steadily gained votes since the first ballot and rose to 34 (ten behind Steele) on the third, clearly has momentum almost akin to that of Steele.  Although he and Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis have competed for the job, they are considered friends and political allies and could join forces.  (Anuzis, a conservative stalwart like Dawson’s, has been consistently in fourth with 24 votes).

Ohio’s Ken Blackwell, also a conservative, has dropped from the low twenties in the early ballots to 15 on the third.  Will you stay in, I asked him shortly before Duncan’s exit?

“Yes, I will,” the former gubernatorial hopeful told me, “We’ve always had a multi-ballot strategy.”

As motions for a recess requested by Arizona State Chairman Randy Pullen were shouted down and Party Secretary Connie Nicholas called the role of states again, the fourth ballot was about to begin.  No one expects it to be decisive, but betting in the ballroom is that Steele comes close and Dawson will rise.

To be continued…

Earlier Today 

The largest ballroom at the Capital Hilton Hotel is overflowing with reporters, political junkies, members of the Republican National Committee and friends of the five remaining candidates for RNC chairman. Party Secretary Connie Nicholas struggles to be heard and calls the roll to determine who is attending among the 168 RNC members. In a few minutes, the secret ballotaing for national chairman begins.

No one expects this race to be over after one ballot or two or even three. As to whether Bush-named National Chairman Mike Duncan gets to the “magic 85” votes he needs to win or any of his four opponents overtakes him is anyone’s game. This morning, as the committee members came down to breakfast, they were greeted by an announcement that the three New York State RNC members had endorsed Duncan.

And, of course, the ugliness continues. One participant showed me a brochure under his room making the case that former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele is really a closet liberal.

Tennessee’s Chip Saltsman never shook off the burden of sending out a CD with the song “Barack the Magic Negro” included and withdrew his candidacy last night. He urged his backers — if any — to vote for former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell of Ohio.

“Mike Duncan will lead on the first ballot and second,” New Jersey RNC member David Norcross, a backer of South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawon told me moments ago, “But if he shows no momentum, he’s done — and it’s anyone’s game.”

That seems to be the consensus here. But Dawson, Steele, and Michigan State Chairman Saul Anuzis all seem to be locked in a battle to be the “anti-Duncan.” Aware of the flap over Saltsman, Anuzis and Dawson were formally nominated by the RNC members from their respective states who happen to be African-American — Glenn McCall of South Carolina and Keith Butler of Michigan.

For all those who said Blackwell was running last and trying to cut a deal, his campaign made it clear this was not the case. Former RNC member Chuck Yob of Michigan, himself a candidate for national chairman in 1997 and a major Blackwell booster, told me “No deals, period. And it’s anyone’s game.” A Blackwell spokesman later told me “Ken’s in if it takes six ballots.”

The members are going in to cast their first votes. Stay tuned for further developments…