The Republican National Committee has picked Michael Steele, a black man from a traditionally Democratic state, to be the new face of the party as the GOP forges a revival following a second straight electoral drubbing.
Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, won the chairmanship Friday after six rounds of voting in which five candidates were competing. He becomes the first black chairman of the Republican Party just days after President Obama became the nation's first black president.
Steele delivered a rousing speech after winning the race, pledging to re-establish the Republican presence in the northeast and win elections in regions across the country.
"It's time for something completely different, and we're gonna bring it to them," he said. "Get ready, baby. It's time to turn it on."
Steele said he would work to build the party to an unprecedented level and warned: "For those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked down."
Outgoing Chairman Mike Duncan dropped his bid for a second term after the third round of voting. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson had emerged as Steele's top challenger, but Steele won with 91 votes to Dawson's 77.
Voting lasted for hours because no candidate was able to rack up the majority of votes necessary. A candidate needs 85 of 168 votes to win, which Steele eventually attained.
Ken Blackwell, Ohio's former secretary of state, and Saul Anuzis, Michigan GOP chairman, dropped their bids before the final round of voting.
Steele ran unsuccessfully for Senate in Maryland in 2006, and later headed up GOPAC, the Republican recruiting arm. He is a frequent media commentator, on FOX News and other outlets, and has touted that experience as one of his credentials. In a recent interview with FOXNews.com, he also said his political upbringing in a liberal stronghold of Maryland had toughened him.
The results in the early rounds Friday signaled that many Republicans were eager for new leadership, after suffering double-digit losses in congressional elections for the second time in a row in November and losing the White House. Steele lagged Duncan by just six votes in the first round Friday, but the second round had them tied and Steele led Duncan 51-to-44 votes in the third round, after which Duncan dropped out.
"Obviously the winds of change are blowing," Duncan said as he withdrew from the race and got a standing ovation. The Kentucky Republican thanked former President George W. Bush and said of his two-year tenure: "It truly has been the highlight of my life."
Another candidate, former Tennessee GOP Chairman Chip Saltsman, dropped out of the race on Thursday with little explanation, saying only in a letter to RNC members: "I have decided to withdraw my candidacy."
Saltsman, who ran former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's failed presidential campaign last year, was considered a long-shot candidate who several Republican officials said likely wouldn't have had enough support even to be formally nominated had he continued his bid.
It faltered in December after he drew controversy for mailing a 41-track CD to committee members that included a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro" by conservative comedian Paul Shanklin and sung to the music of "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
Steele had criticized Saltsman for the mailing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.