RNC chair fight: Ebony and ivory

The race to head the GOP has come down to, well, race: One leading contender is a black man, the other only recently quit a whites-only club.

Published January 30, 2009 7:55PM (EST)

This is not the fight the Republican Party wanted to have.

The race to head the Republican National Committee was supposed to be a chance for the GOP to show that it is inclusive, not just a bunch of Southern whites. But with incumbent Chair Mike Duncan having withdrawn his name, the fourth ballot made the new battle lines clear. On one side is former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African American who's a moderate within the party. Steele is now in second place, trailing by two votes behind South Carolina GOP Chair Katon Dawson.

And while the election of Steele to lead the GOP might symbolize one thing -- a new openness, perhaps, or at least a recognition of the need to bring moderates and minorities into the party -- the choice of Dawson would be something else entirely. He has a complicated history in terms of race relations. In 2005, for instance, he explained that his personal experience with desegregation was what attracted him to politics, saying:

Government reached into my life and grabbed me and shook me at the age of fifteen. I remember how blatant it was that government just thought that they knew better, that government just thought they knew better what to do in my school. And I can't say it was so much racial. I can say that people had a lot of stuff thrust on them because politicians thought they knew better.

Dawson's also become famous recently for having resigned his membership in a whites-only club only this past fall, as he was gearing up for his candidacy.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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