Washington (CNN) - Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus picked up a key endorsement Tuesday in his nascent campaign for the Republican National Committee chairmanship.
Mississippi Committeeman Henry Barbour, a respected figure inside the RNC and a close confidante to his uncle, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, emailed committee members to praise Priebus' record in Wisconsin as well as his service as RNC General Counsel, a position Priebus resigned from this weekend before officially entering the chairman's race on Monday.
Priebus was a key ally of Chairman Michael Steele until recent weeks, when a group of Steele allies and critics - including Barbour - urged him to mount his own bid. His supporters believe that Priebus can bridge the divide between Steele loyalists on the committee and veteran RNC members who have clashed openly with the chairman.
Barbour said he was impressed with Priebus' handling of the General Counsel job under difficult circumstances. The RNC has been plagued by public relations fiascos and questions about fundraising since Steele took over the job in early 2009.
"Let's face it, that was a tough job and he did as well as reasonably can be expected," Barbour wrote. "He was always fair-minded, candid and inclusive with members. I also believe Reince was one of the few people in the inner circle who talked straight with Chairman Steele when he disagreed with him."
Barbour supported former South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson in the last chairman's race.
Steele has not announced whether he seek a second term. Michigan Committeeman Saul Anuzis and former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner have announced campaigns to replace him.
Also considering bids are former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins, former Bush administration official Maria Cino and Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy. Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has said he will not challenge Steele if the chairman decides to seek another term, but he is still expressing interest in the post.