Friday’s voting to decide the next chairman of the Republican National Committee was a messy affair that took hours and left the impression that many Republicans are divided on where their party should head next.

The election of the first African-American to lead the GOP will be Saturday’s headline, but reaching consensus on Michael Steele as the party’s next chairman was a slow process for committee members.

It took three rounds of balloting among the RNC’s 168 members to finally wrest the vote lead away from reigning Chairman Mike Duncan and committee members were still no closer to choosing a leader.

Supporters of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele were buoyed by his first ballot vote total. A surprised cheer went up from Steele’s supporters on the news that he won 46 first ballot votes to Duncan’s 52. South Carolina Party Chair Katon Dawson got 29 votes, followed by Michigan's Saul Anuzis with 22 and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell with 20.

A candidate needs 85 of the 168 votes to declare victory.

A second round of balloting made the picture even murkier. After round two Duncan and Steele were tied with 48 votes followed by Dawson with 29, Anuzis with 24 and Blackwell with 19.

Each successive ballot launched a lightening round of politicking among the candidates, their campaigns and committee members. With about 20 minutes between each vote candidates crisscrossed the floor furiously lobbying members and huddling with staff and supporters.

The glacial movement away from Duncan continued on the third ballot, but still no one was close to victory. Round three gave Steele the lead with 51 votes followed by Duncan with 44, Dawson with 34, Anuzis with 24 and Blackwell with 15.

“Nobody knows what the hell is going on,” one GOP consultant told me after the third ballot.

That pretty much summed up the mood of the day as it became clear that consensus would take some time. Duncan took himself out of the race before the fourth round of voting telling the crowd “the winds of change are blowing at the RNC.”

It wasn’t until after the 4th ballot when Ohio’s Ken Blackwell bowed out and threw his support behind Steele that the picture got clearer. As it turned into a two man race between Michael Steele and Katon Dawson, the differences couldn’t have been more stark. Dawson represented the Southern and more conservative wing of the GOP. Steele offered the party a new face—literally and figuratively.

Still, the sixth and final ballot showed an RNC closely divided. Steele won 91 votes, while Dawson took 77.

“It’s time for something completely different,” Steele told the crowd after his victory. “We’re going to bring this party to every corner, to every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community, and we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, ‘we want you to be a part of us. We want you to work with us.’ And for those of you who wish to obstruct—get ready to get knocked over.”

Shane D’Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine.