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US Republicans elect new chairman
Michael Steele becomes first African-American to chair Republican Party.
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2009 23:34 GMT
Steele is set to develop a strategy to take
on Barack Obama [Reuters]

The US Republican Party has picked its first black chairman, electing Michael Steele, the former Lieutenant Governor of the state of Maryland, to rebuild it after a series of defeats.

Steele, 50, is said to be regarded within the party as a skilled speaker who can help bring the Republican message to black Americans, Hispanics and other groups that have shunned the party in recent years.

"To Americans who believe in the future of this country, to those who stand in difference with us, it's time for something completely different. And we're going to bring it to them," Steele said in Washington on Friday.

Steele's main task will be to find a way to counter Barack Obama, who was sworn in as the country's first black president 11 days ago.

"It's time for something completely different and we’re going to bring it to them," Steele said. 

Steele won after six ballots by a vote of 91 to 77, with 85 votes needed to win.

New strategy

Steele, a Roman Catholic former corporate lawyer, has promised to close the digital divide with Democrats who have used the internet to raise record amounts of money and build an army of volunteers.

Some Republicans have accused Steele of being insufficiently conservative because of his past association with a moderate-leaning group.

Camille Elhassani, Al Jazeera's White House producer, said Steele faces an electorate that has not only abandoned the traditional Republican Party but is openly hostile to them, following eight years of George Bush, the former US president.

Elhassani said Steele would have to focus on uniting the Republicans with a new strategy and message.

Steele also acknowledged the historic nature of the vote and the need to take the party in a new direction.

"We're going to bring this party to every corner, every board room, every neighborhood, every community. And we're going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us."

His election could help counter a view that the party has exploited racial tensions to win white votes since the 1960s.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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