WASHINGTON - Maryland Republican leaders endorsed yesterday Michael S. Steele's bid to become the party's next national chairman and called him well-positioned to get the job.
The former Maryland lieutenant governor appeared on the Fox News Channel on Thursday night to announce his candidacy. Steele worked as a Fox commentator during the 2008 campaign.
Steele first expressed interest in becoming the Republican Party's top official two years ago, after losing a U.S. Senate race in Maryland, but President George W. Bush gave the job to Florida Sen. Mel Martinez.
In reacting to the party's defeat in last week's election, Steele has said it would be wrong for Republicans to change their conservative principles but that the party must adapt to a changing country.
Republicans need to articulate their vision "in the local public square, on TV, on radio, in the local newspapers, on the Internet," he said in a statement announcing his candidacy.
Steele said he decided to run last weekend and spent much of this week privately contacting the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, who will elect the new chairman at a meeting in January.
"He's the right spokesman for the party," said Louis Pope, Maryland's Republican national committeeman, who called Steele's TV experience good training for the post.
Pope is also a candidate for an RNC leadership job, as party treasurer.
The current RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, might seek another term. Other announced or potential candidates include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; the state Republican chairmen from Michigan, South Carolina and Florida; and former Tennessee Chairman Chip Saltsman, who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign.
Maryland Republican Chairman Jim Pelura said the next RNC leader needs to be "a nationally recognized face of the party. Michael Steele certainly fits that bill."
He said that Steele, whose convention speech in St. Paul spawned the "Drill, Baby, Drill" slogan for the fall campaign, is an articulate spokesman who is well-liked by RNC members.
Joyce Lyons Terhes, the state's Republican committeewoman, said it was unrealistic to expect someone who hasn't served on the RNC, such as Gingrich, to win the chairmanship. Other than chairmen installed by sitting presidents, including Ken Mehlman, a Maryland native who became RNC chairman after managing Bush's successful 2004 re-election campaign, all recent party leaders have had experience on the national committee, she noted.
Steele, who served on the RNC as state party chairman from 2000 to 2002, currently heads GOPAC, an organization that works to build the party at the state and local levels and was formerly chaired by Gingrich.