WASHINGTON – Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will take over as the next chairman of GOPAC, a major candidate recruitment and fund-raising arm of the Republican Party, the organization announced Thursday.
“GOPAC is back,” Steele said, echoing the theme he’s set for his two-year strategy.
Steele said Thursday that he wants Maryland to become an example of what GOPAC can do nationally.
“The goal for the state of Maryland is to regroup, refocus and identify the talent,” Steele said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re running for sheriff or running for dog catcher. We’re looking for people with a real shot in making a difference in their community.”
Steele was selected, said John Morgan, executive director of GOPAC, for his “optimism and potential to inspire Republicans across the country.” He himself was recruited by his friend and predecessor, former Rep. J.C. Watts, Jr., R-Okla.
Steele is an attractive figure for the GOP because he is black and a moderate who can reach out to other blacks and minority voters. In addition, he’s appealing to moderate white voters, said St. Mary’s College of Maryland political science professor Walter Hill.
“He is definitely the type of figure that can diversify the base a bit more,” Hill said.
GOPAC was founded in 1978 by former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont to train and recruit candidates and activists at the grass roots level, much like a farm team for the GOP.
Since becoming the state’s first black lieutenant governor, he was defeated in a U.S. Senate bid by Democrat Ben Cardin in the November election. Steele previously was chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
“Michael Steele is incredibly charismatic,” said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, adding past experience as their chairman will help him as a recruiter.
Watts has more Hill experience than Steele, said political analyst Jennifer E. Duffy of the “Cook Political Report”, but “Steele’s a pretty good fund-raiser and may be able to attract different candidates with his charisma.”
“He’s a pretty good public face on that group,” Duffy said.
Steele assumes control on Feb. 1, and is the seventh chairman of the committee.
Past chairmen have included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who came under fire for his handling of GOPAC funds during the “Republican Revolution” of 1994.
Watts tripled fundraising levels, including $9 million during the last election cycle, and after nearly four years of service, leaves GOPAC on strong financial footing, Morgan said.
“(I) know Michael Steele will continue to provide GOPAC with the energetic leadership he has shown in every other facet of his life,” Watts said in a statement.