NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Wisconsin Republican Party chief Reince Priebus on Friday will serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee, securing enough votes to deny Michael Steele a second term and holding off three additional challengers.
Priebus won a majority of the 168 votes after seven rounds of balloting, eventually besting former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis in the last round. Priebus led balloting consistently throughout, growing from 45 votes on the first ballot, one more than Steele, who abandoned his bid after seeing his vote totals drop in four rounds of voting.
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The Wisconsin chairman pledged during his campaign to operate the committee in stark contrast with Steele's style. He promised to open contracts to a competitive bidding process and to involve members of the committee in major decisions.
Still, Priebus faced major hurdles from the start, not least of which was his proximity to Steele himself, who had become deeply unpopular on the committee. In 2009, Priebus was Steele's closest advisor and biggest backer; Steele appointed Priebus general counsel after winning, and Priebus spent much of the next two years defending Steele and comforting upset members. Opponents used that connection to imply Priebus would run the committee like his predecessor, a charge Priebus spent much of his time denying.
Even when he served as Steele's close advisor, Priebus was able to maintain good relations with the RNC membership. He enjoyed early support from both Steele allies and detractors, building a coalition that, once Steele dropped out, became insurmountable.
In winning the chairmanship, Priebus will take over a committee deeply in debt and beset by management problems after Steele's tumultuous two years in office. The RNC is more than $20 million in debt, according to internal finance figures; a $5 million line of credit comes due in late February, though RNC officials are negotiating a new payment plan.