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Michael Steele withdraws from RNC race

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Producer
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Steele drops out of RNC race
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Oxon Hill, Maryland (CNN) -- Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele dropped his re-election bid Friday and endorsed former Bush administration official Maria Cino to succeed him.

"I really thank you for the chairmanship of this party, for the two years that I have had and at this time I will step aside for others to lead," he said. "But in so doing I hope you all appreciate the legacy I leave despite the noise. Despite the difficulties, we won."

"As many of you figured out I am a fighter, and I am a little bit obstinate," he continued. "But I am because I believe in the fight ... I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different."

Steele then released his delegates and asked them to support Cino, whose bid is backed by House Speaker John Boehner.

He also took parting shots at Democrats, including President Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Barack Obama's agenda is not good for America," he added. "We fired Pelosi. Let's take the Senate. Let's take the White House. Let's heal America, make her stronger, better, prouder, as we are today as Republicans unified moving forward."

Steele being replaced as chairman was pretty much a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the voting.

The phrases "Steele's toast" and "Steele's done" were confidently thrown out by three different RNC delegates supporting rival candidates when asked to forecast the election, and even some of Steele's most ardent supporters privately admitted that the outlook was grim.

Steele got only 44 of the committee's 168 members' votes in the first round of balloting and his total fell through four subsequent rounds to 28 before he withdrew.

Things are obviously looking up for Republicans in the wake of Obama's "shellacking" in November, but Steele's foes inside and outside the committee believe that GOP gains came in spite of the chairman and not because of him.

Several of Steele's closest allies on the committee abandoned the chairman in recent weeks to support Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, who remains the favorite to win the election.

Priebus, himself a former Steele booster, picked up a big last-minute endorsement Thursday from New Hampshire GOP Chairman John Sununu, a respected senior voice on the committee.

The RNC vote is a ballot process in which a candidate must secure a majority of the 168 members. If no one gets to the required 85 votes in the first round - a certainty on Friday - balloting begins anew through multiple rounds until one Republican builds enough momentum to win.

A candidate can remain in the race as long as he or she chooses as the voting progresses from round to round, though underperformers are likely to drop out and may throw their support to another contender.

CNN's Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

 
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