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Reince Priebus talks with members during the Republican National Committee meeting on Friday in Oxon Hill, Md. Priebus was selected as RNC chairman after seven rounds of voting. (AP)

Wisconsin's Reince Priebus Wins RNC Chair After Steele Drops Out

Jan 14, 2011

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Wisconsin state party chairman Reince Priebus (L), a candidate for the Republican National Committee chairman, talks with RNC meeting attendees.

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Updated at 7:22 pm — After winning the election for chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Preibus briefly talked with reporters since he was already chairing meetings.

"I promised the committee I'd work in humility," Priebus told reporters after his election, alluding to a common criticism among Republicans that Steele was arrogant. "We need to raise a whole lot of money and came together and rebuild our credibility as a party, the conservative party."

How much money? Upwards of $400 million over the next two years in preparation for the 2012 elections, he said. That doesn't include fundraising needed to cover "at least" $21 million in current RNC debt, he added.

He said he's already begun to contact big donors who had pulled back under Steele's tenure. He said his fundraising strategy will include establishing regional fundraisers across the country.

At 38 years old, Priebus was an attractive choice for many RNC members hoping to attract younger voters — a glaring weakness for the party compared with Obama's dominance in organizing that group.

But he lacks the experience of other chairman candidates on the national stage. Asked by reporters if he's prepared for the spotlight as the official voice of the Republican Party, Priebus allowed a smile from his boyish face and said: "Wisconsin is a targeted state. We're not unused to having lots of press. It seems like President Obama comes in [to Wisconsin] every other month."

Updated at 5:23 pm — Wisconsin's Reince Priebus was elected RNC chair with 97 votes.

His victory came after seven rounds of voting and plenty of wrangling behind the scenes. Priebus, chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, is a staunch conservative who's regarded as a rising star in the party.

"We can't wait to get started, rebuild this party, move on to conservative candidates," he said in his speech to national committee members. "I want to thank Chairman Steele for his leadership over the past two years... We have to get on track. We can defeat Barack Obama in 2012 together, unified as a committee."

Priebus had been an ally of embattled outgoing RNC chairman Michael Steele—who dropped out of the race in an earlier round Friday—and was the general counsel to the committee until recently.

Throughout his campaign, Priebus had only indirectly criticized Steele, suggesting the national party organization had lost credibility with major donors and grass-roots activists.

Michigan's Saul Annuzis came in second with 43 votes and Maria Cino of Ohio third with 28.

Updated at 4:58 pm — Wisconsin's Reince Priebus received 80 votes in the sixth round of voting for the RNC chairmanship, placing him well within striking distance of victory now that incumbent Michael Steele has dropped out. Just five more votes would put him over the top.

Updated at 4:05 pm — RNC Chairman Michael Steele ended his reelection bid Thursday afternoon, once his chances continued to diminish after four rounds of voting.

Steele asked his supporters to shift their votes to candidate Maria Cino, who finished in second place behind Priebus in the fourth round. That would give Cino 47 votes, not nearly enough to catch Priebus' 58.

With the fifth round of voting currently under way, it's now clear that no winner will be declared unless another candidate drops out.

In a gracious concession speech before the national committee, Steele thanked the members for the opportunity to serve and said he decided to bow out because "it's time" for the RNC to move in "a new direction."

"Despite the noise...we won," Steele said to whooping cheers and applause.

Updated at 3:44 pm — Wisconsin's Reince Priebus edged embattled incumbent Michael Steele as the top finisher in the first three rounds of balloting for the Republican National Committee chairmanship on Friday.

In the third round, Priebus, the chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, who entered as the frontrunner, received 54 votes, to Steele's 33.

Priebus' lead widened from the first round, where he led Steele by just one vote, and the second, where he led by 15 votes.

Also in the third round, Maria Cino, endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former Vice President Dick Cheney, received 28 votes — two less than she got in the second round.

Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis got 21 votes (six less than in the second round) and former ambassador and RNC member Ann Wagner received 32 — up 10 votes from the second round.

The RNC committee is recessing after each round here at National Harbor in Maryland, where the organization has held its winter meeting since yesterday.

The committee is scheduled to begin the second round of voting shortly after 2 p.m. EST.

Voting will continue until a candidate receives 85 votes—from the total 168-member committee—in a single round.

If a winner isn't elected after three rounds of balloting, the field could open up.

Candidates who fail to amass the required votes aren't required to drop out, so voting could drag on and make for a long afternoon. After all, Steele didn't win in 2009 until the sixth ballot, defeating South Carolina Party Chairman Katon Dawson, 91-77.

But given the strength of Priebus's support, many here believe he could secure the chairmanship after three rounds.

In any case, no one seems to expect Steele to win a second term. Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, has failed to attract much support after a series of missteps, both in his public statements and in his management of the organization.

During the nominating process Friday, a Steele supporter stood and implored his fellow committee members to reelect the chairman: "What corporation changes the head when you've just had the biggest year?" the man said of the GOP House victories in November. "Let's keep it going!"

That may not be enough to save Steele. Last summer, his description of the conflict in Afghanistan as "a war of Obama's choosing," angered Republicans who backed the war. Last winter, he suggested that Republicans wouldn't take back the House.

Under his stewardship, the RNC has fallen $20 million into debt after several questionable spending decisions.

One involved nearly $2,000 spent at a sex-themed West Hollywood night club (Steele wasn't present). Steele also failed to keep big donors engaged.

On Friday morning, Steele delivered likely his final speech to the committee as its chairman. He refrained from outright politicking, which is forbidden on the floor of Friday's session.

But his remarks seemed to drip with sugary praise for committee members who will decide his fate.

"It does not get done without you, our state chairmen and our national committeemen and women," Steele said. He added, "You did not shrink from the challenge. You did not walk away from the opportunity. The effort of our party speaks for itself."

Steele also defended his record at helping to win the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and take back control of the House.

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