Republican National Committee chairmanship election, 2009

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1999 ← Republican Party chairmanship election, 2009 → 2011
January 20, 2009
  • January 29, 2009 – Chip Saltsman withdraws from the race amidst controversy surrounding racially-political satire[1]
  • January 20, 2009 – Election held by party voting members in Washington, D.C.


  • First ballot: Duncan wins plurality; 52
  • Second ballot: Duncan and Steele tie for lead; 48–48
  • Third ballot: Steele wins plurality; 51; Duncan withdraws
  • Fourth ballot: Dawson wins plurality; 62; Blackwell withdraws
  • Fifth ballot: Steele wins plurality; 79; Anuzis withdraws
  • Sixth ballot: Steele wins majority over Dawson; 91–77


The 2009 Republican National Committee chairmanship election started out as a six-way race, and ended on the sixth ballot with Michael Steele becoming the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee.[2] The Washington Times called it the "'Dirtiest ever' race for RNC chairman."[3]


On November 11, 2008, Jeff Burton launched a political draft website to encourage Steele to run for Republican National Committee Chairman.[4] The website allowed visitors to sign a draft petition, and received over 6,000 signatures.[5]


Katon Dawson announced his official bid on November 24, 2008.[6] Dawson was one of two candidates to earn votes on each of the six votes taken; he lost the final ballot to winner Michael Steele, 91-77.[7]

On November 24, 2008 Steele launched his own campaign website,[8] and confirmed his intention to run on Hannity and Colmes.[9] Steele, seen as an early frontrunner,[10] rejected the idea that the color of his skin had anything to do with his chances at becoming RNC chair, saying, "I am a Republican who happens to be African-American."[11]

Chip Saltsman was the first candidate to release a specific plan regarding the future of the party, which can be viewed at Our Plan for Republican Victory.[12] In his bid for the RNC Chairmanship, Saltsman has been endorsed by: former Republican presidential candidate Governor Mike Huckabee,[13] former United States Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, and Tennessee House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower.[14]

USA Today reported that, "half of the candidates to lead the Republican National Committee (RNC) are Southerners: current Chairman Mike Duncan of Kentucky, South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson and former Tennessee chairman Chip Saltsman. Former Ohio secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele are black. Saul Anuzis, the Michigan GOP chairman, is a Harley-Davidson rider, an ex-union member and the son of an autoworker.[15]

"Barack the Magic Negro" controversy

For Christmas 2008, Chip Saltsman sent members of the Republican National Committee a music CD of songs intended to be political satire. The CD of 41 songs included one entitled "David Ehrenstein's 'Barack the Magic Negro' " set to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon". Its title was drawn from a Los Angeles Times column, written by Ehrenstein, who is partly of African-American descent,[16] that suggested President Barack Obama appealed to those who feel guilty about the nation's history of mistreatment of African-Americans.[17] Saltsman said the song, penned by his longtime friend Paul Shanklin, a white conservative parodist songwriter, who performs it using his impersonation of Al Sharpton, "should be easily recognized as satire directed at the Times."[18]

Some opposing candidates, including incumbent RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, criticized Saltsman; others, such as former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, defended Saltsman against the "hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race."[19]

Saltsman responded by saying, "Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn't utter a word about David Ehrenstein's irresponsible column in the Los Angeles Times last March. But now, of course, they're shocked and appalled by its parody on the Rush Limbaugh Show. I firmly believe that we must welcome all Americans into our party and that the road to Republican resurgence begins with unity, not division. But I know that our party leaders should stand up against the media's double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal."[20]

Some conservatives not currently seeking the RNC chairmanship, such as Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and North Carolina Republican National Committeewoman Ada Fisher, have also criticized with regards to the issue. Gingrich stated in an e-mail message: "There are no grounds for demeaning him (Obama) or for using racist descriptions."[21]


The election was decided in late January after six rounds of voting, with Steele elected chairman by a majority vote of the 168 committee members.[10][22][23]

Candidate Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6
Steele, MichaelMichael Steele 46 48 51 60 79 91
Dawson, KatonKaton Dawson 28 29 34 62 69 77
Anuzis, SaulSaul Anuzis 22 24 24 31 20 Withdrew
Blackwell, KenKen Blackwell 20 19 15 15 Withdrew
Duncan, MikeMike Duncan 52 48 44 Withdrew
     Candidate won that round of voting
     Candidate withdrew
     Candidate won RNC Chairmanship

After the third round of balloting Duncan dropped out of contention without endorsing a candidate.[24] Ken Blackwell, the only other African-American candidate, dropped out after the fourth ballot and endorsed Steele, though Blackwell had been the most socially conservative of the candidates and Steele had been accused of not being "sufficiently conservative." Steele picked up Blackwell's votes.[25] After the fifth round, Steele held a ten-vote lead over Katon Dawson, with 79 votes, and Saul Anuzis dropped out.[26]

The sixth round

The final push that led to Steele's win was from the eight voters from the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, who switched to Steele after Anuzis dropped out.[27] Steele won the chairmanship of the RNC in the sixth round, with 91 votes to Dawson's 77.[28]


  1. Kleefeld, Eric (January 29, 2009). "Saltsman Drops out of RNC Race". Talking Points Memo. Retrieved January 9, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Michael Steele elected RNC chairman". USA Today. January 30, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "'Dirtiest ever' race for RNC chairman". Washington Times. January 29, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Isenstadt, Alex (November 11, 2008). "Draft Steele group launches". Retrieved November 13, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Support Michael Steele for RNC Chairman". Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2010. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Mark Murray. Dawson officially enters RNC race, MSNBC, November 24, 2008
  7. Burns, Alexander. Steele: 'How do you like me now?', Politico, January 30, 2009
  8. Reiter, Daniel. "Steele Website Goes Live".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  9. "Michael Steele Announces Candidacy for RNC Chair" (video – YouTube posting by SteeleForChairman on November 14, 2009). Hannity and Colmes. Fox News. November 13, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Cillizza, Chris (December 11, 2008). "RNC Field Sorts Itself Out". The Washington Post. The Fix. Retrieved January 2, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Stephey, M.J. (February 2, 2009). "New RNC Chairman: Michael Steele". Time. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved February 20, 2009. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Memo – Chip Saltsman for RNC Chair". Retrieved January 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Huckabee, Governor Mike, "Chip Saltsman for RNC Chair", Huck PAC, December 8, 2008.
  14. Brooks, Jennifer and Theo Emery, "Saltsman acts to become national GOP chairman", The Tennessean, December 9, 2008.
  15. Lawrence, Jill (January 5, 2009). "Six-way race for GOP chairman heats up". USA Today. Retrieved January 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. David Ehrenstein, Meet David Ehrenstein, L.A. Weekly, April 21, 2005
  17. Ehrenstein, David, "Obama the 'Magic Negro' ", The Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2007.
  18. Sinderbrand, Rebecca, "RNC chairman candidate defends 'Barack the Magic Negro' song", CNN, December 26, 2008.
  19. Smith, Ben, "Blackwell defends Saltsman", Politico, December 27, 2008.
  20. Saltsman, Chip, "The Media's Double Standards",, December 27, 2008.
  21. DeParle, Jason, "G.O.P. Receives Obama Parody to Mixed Reviews", The New York Times, December 27, 2008.
  22. CQ Politics (January 30, 2009). "Republican Choose Michael Steele as Party Chairman".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. (January 30, 2009). "RNC Chairman Vote: Live Coverage".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Armbinder, Mark (January 30, 2009). "RNC Chairman Duncan Drops Re-Election Bid". The Atlantic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Cillizza, Chris (January 30, 2009). "Steele Elected RNC Chair". Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Hamby, Peter (January 30, 2009). "Steele wins contentious RNC race". CNN Political Ticker.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Reid Hill (February 9, 2009). "RNC race came down to island territories". The Hill.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Burns, Alexander (January 30, 2009). "It's Steele!". The Politico. Archived from the original on February 1, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>