By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008
Former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele said yesterday that he will seek the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, a move sure to shake up the race for control of a party demoralized by losses in last week's elections.
"After two devastating election cycles, the party has reached a crossroads," said Steele, who compared the Republican Party to someone who has "hunkered down" in a corner with no real idea how to get out. "I think I may have some keys to open the door, some juice to turn on the lights," he added.
Steele is the second candidate to enter the race; Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis launched a bid with a YouTube video and new Web site earlier this week. A number of other possible contenders have been mentioned, including current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chip Saltsman, former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, South Carolina Party Chairman Katon Dawson and Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer.
The next chairman will be selected by 168 committee members during the RNC's meeting in January.
Steele seems virtually certain to be one of the front-runners. After a stint as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, Steele was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in 2002. Four years later, he ran for the Senate, losing to then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D).
Since that loss, Steele has remained active in the party as chairman of GOPAC, a national conservative organization designed to elect Republicans at the state and local levels. Steele is also African American, a potentialbenefit for a party seeking to broaden its base of support.
Steele said he made his decision to run last weekend but delayed his public announcement so that he could call RNC members to discuss the party's future, which he believes lies with the states.
"I know firsthand the RNC must truly be run as a federation of state parties in order to be effective," he said. "I believe the leadership of our party must come from its grass roots, because the members of the RNC are the best representation of what direction our party needs to take."