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Posted at 3:54 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Michael Steele bows out of RNC Chair race, endorses Maria Cino

By Chris Cillizza

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele bowed out of his longshot bid for a second term, bringing an end to a two-year tenure more defined by gaffes than the electoral victories his party racked up.

"I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different," said Steele before the fifth ballot for chairman began. He immediately threw his support to former RNC official Maria Cino's candidacy.

Even in defeat, however Steele was unapologetic about his time in office. "I hope you all appreciate the legacy we leave," he told the 168 members of the RNC. "Despite the noise, despite the difficulties, we won."

Steele finished second on the first ballot, a single vote behind Wisconsin Republican party chairman Reince Priebus. But he progressively lost support as the balloting went on as the 168 committee members made clear that they have decided to move past his stormy time in office.

Nearly two years ago to the day, Steele was triumphant -- scoring a somewhat surprising victory over a crowded field to become the first African American chairman of the Republican party. Steele was touted by many within the GOP as a foil to the newly elected President Obama -- a well spoken, fresh face for a party decimated in the 2008 election.

But Steele turned into something far less than what many had hoped -- a gaffe-prone public speaker who struggled to court the high dollar donors that form the financial foundation of the RNC.

The result? Despite historic wins in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey in 2009 and gains up and down the ballot in 2010, Steele found himself under siege from, four challengers -- all of whom argued that the party's gains were in spite, not because of, his work at the committee.

The most damaging blow to Steele's re-election chances came from Gentry Collins, former political director at the RNC who penned a six-page letter denouncing the fundraising operation (among other things) at the committee. (Collins eventually decided to run for chairman himself but quickly dropped out when he couldn't secure the requisite support.)

Steele, despite his repeated protestations that things were not as bad as his opponents suggested, could never overcome the massive $20 million debt the RNC compiled in the 2010 cycle and the carping of the professional political class that they simply couldn't keep Steele in the job heading into the 2012 presidential race.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 14, 2011; 3:54 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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Next: Reince Priebus wins RNC Chairmanship

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