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Republicans Choose First African-American as Party Leader

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Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele speaks after being elected first black RNC chairman at Party's winter meetings in Washington DC, 30 Jan. 2009
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele speaks after being elected first black RNC chairman at Party's winter meetings in Washington DC, 30 Jan. 2009

U.S. Republicans have elected the first African-American to head their party's national committee. Top Republicans from around the country chose former Maryland Lieutenant-Governor Michael Steele to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Steele is the first black American to hold the post and he will now become a leading spokesman and candidate recruiter as Republicans try to recover after losing the presidency in November and losing their majorities in both chambers of Congress in 2006.

Steele beat out four challengers including the incumbent Republican chairman, Mike Duncan, and Steele vowed to bring change to the Republican Party.

"To those who support us, to those who believe in the ideals and those conservative principles that have made us the strong and proud party that we are, to Americans who believe in the future of this country, to those who stand in difference with us - it is time for something completely different, and we are going to bring it to them," he said.

Steele promised to reach out to voters who have been turned off by Republican candidates and Republican themes in recent elections, and to broaden the base of a party that has narrowed in recent years.

"We are going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community, and we are going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us," he said. "And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over."

Steele has the difficult job of trying to rebuild a dispirited Republican Party following President Barack Obama's victory in November over John McCain and Democratic gains in Congress in the past two election cycles.

Democrats gained majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives in 2006 and expanded those majorities in the November elections.

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