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News from the Votemaster

Michael Steele Elected Chairman of the RNC

The former lieutenant governor of Maryland, Michael Steele, was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on the sixth ballot yesterday, defeating Katon Dawson of South Carolina 91 to 77. Steele becomes the first black chairman of the RNC. For anyone who lived through the 1960s, with its sit-ins, murders, police dogs, and firehoses, the idea that within 50 years, the leaders of both political parties would be black is simply astonishing.

Originally six people were competing for the job of RNC chairman, but one by one they dropped out. Chip "Barack the Magic Negro" Saltsman bit the dust Thursday. Then current chairman Mike Duncan quit after the third round when it became clear that he was dropping. Ken Blackwell (who is also black), dropped out next. Blackwell urged his supporters to vote for the other black candidate, Steele, with whom he has major ideological differences, rather than the white candidate, Katon Dawson, with whom he sees eye to eye on most issues. After the fifth ballot, Saul Anuzis tossed in the towel but did not endorse either of the remaining candidates, Steele or Dawson.

At that point the Republican state leaders had a choice between a very conservative white southerner, Katon Dawson, who only recently quit a whites-only club, and a conservative black man from Maryland. Probably many RNC members realized that if they picked Dawson, the headlines the next day would read: "Republicans Choose Racist over African American." They wisely went with Steele, even though many of them think he is not conservative enough.

Although not quite as conservative as the other candidates, make no mistake about Steele: he is a true-blue conservative. But for public relations purposes he is a real winner. He is a good-looking, smart, well-spoken, young (50), Catholic with a law degree from Georgetown University. The Republicans desperately need to reach out to young people, minorities, Catholics, and well-educated voters, and with Steele they have someone who can do that in a way impossible for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Expect to see a LOT of Steele on TV the next two years.

Of course, changing the messenger doesn't automatically change the message. Part of the Republicans problem is that the message of "more tax cuts for the rich" doesn't seem to be selling well and having every Republican in the House vote against the recovery plan because it didn't have enough tax cuts doesn't suddenly become a nonissue because the party now has an attractive and quick-witted spokesman. Still, when you are at the bottom of a hole, there is no way to go but up, and you have to start somewhere. This is a very good start for the GOP.

Steele's job will be a lot harder than Howard Dean's was when he won a fight to take over the DNC in 2004. Dean's thing was a 50-state strategy. Up until that point, the Democrats competed in 15 or 16 states and then prayed for Ohio. Dean raised a ton of money and opened offices staffed by paid DNC employees in all 50 states. He gave the Democratic party a real presence in places like Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and Nevada, where the party was in poor shape. The rest is history. It is doubtful that Steele can do something analogous. He can open Republican offices in Harlem and the barrios of Los Angeles, but when curious people come in and the staff tells them how the Republicans want to give them a tax cut, many of them are going to say that taxes aren't their biggest problem. Time will tell whether Steele can heal the sick elephant. It won't be easy.

Expert Says Some Valid Absentee Ballots Were Rejected

Ramsey County Elections Director, Joe Mansky, testified yesterday in the Minnesoa election contest that some absentee ballots may have been incorrectlt rejected because the signature on the ballot envelope did not agree with the signature on the registration form. He said that county workers are not signature experts and mistakes could have been made. Former senator Norm Coleman (R) wants all the rejected absentee ballots to be inspected yet another time. The trial will continue next week.

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