Republicans went to the Heartland today for their next party chair, choosing Wisconsin attorney Reince Priebus to head the Republican National Committee for the next two years into and through the crucial 2012 presidential election cycle. His tenure begins effective immediately.
Priebus, the Wisconsin state party chairman since 2007, won on the seventh ballot with 97 of the 168 votes. Eighty-five were needed for victory. Second was ex-Michigan state chair Saul Anuzis and third was former Bush campaign official and GOP operative Maria Cino, who was endorsed by new House Speaker John Boehner.
The current chairman, Michael Steele, had mounted a surprising and hopeless reelection campaign after November's resounding election victories.
But the 24-month tenure of the first African American to head the party of Lincoln was troubled from the get-go with missteps, administrative errors, speaking gaffes, alienation of other established party leaders and, worst in the eyes of party faithful, terrible RNC fundraising efforts that prompted many large donors to give elsewhere. The party says it is currently more than $20 million in debt.
After the fourth of seven ballots today, Steele withdrew, saying, "I hope you appreciate our legacy. After all the noise, after all the difficulties, WE WON!" He received a standing ovation.
Priebus had momentum coming into the voting at the RNC's regular winter meeting. A staunch conservative, Priebus helped engineer a pickup of two House seats in his state last November, as well as recapturing the governor's office after eight years and defeating longtime incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold.
"We have to get on track," Priebus declared after his win, vowing to focus on fundraising immediately for what experts expect to be a billion-dollar presidential campaign in 2012 -- on both sides. Immediately after the tally, Boehner issued a statement of firm support for Priebus.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Liz Sidotti / Associated Press (Priebus); Alex Wong / Getty Images (Steele).