Oxon Hill, Maryland (CNN) - The Republican National Committee tossed out controversy-plagued chairman Michael Steele Friday and tapped Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus to lead the debt-ridden party organization into the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Priebus remains largely unknown to Washington's political class but is now tasked with rebuilding the committee's damaged relationship with deep-pocketed GOP donors and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to compete with President Obama's re-election campaign.
The RNC also faces a more immediate challenge: retiring more than $21 million in debt leftover from the 2010 election cycle.
The soft-spoken Milwaukee attorney oversaw a banner election year for Republicans in Wisconsin and is a close friend and political adviser to Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson, but he is perhaps better known within the Beltway for his ties to the embattled Steele.
Priebus managed Steele's successful campaign in 2009 and went on to serve as RNC General Counsel, but he resigned the post in December to launch his own bid for the chairmanship after some arm-twisting by Steele critics eager to find a competent committee insider to replace their gaffe-prone leader.
"I am here to earn the trust and support of each and every one of you," Priebus said, addressing the RNC following his win. "I am going to start working right now as your chairman. We all recognize that there is a steep hill here ahead of us, and the only way we will be able to move forward is if we're all together."
Priebus said the RNC's top priority should be to ensure that the GOP's presidential nominee in 2012 "has the organization in place to beat Barack Obama."
His path to victory lasted four hours and was hardly the drama-free exercise that his supporters had hoped for at the outset of the RNC's Winter Meeting, held this week at the Gaylord National Hotel just outside Washington.
The voting process, in which the winner must collect a majority of 85 votes from the 168-member committee, lasted seven rounds.
Priebus led his opponents from the outset but hit a ceiling of roughly 50 votes after four series of votes at the Gaylord Hotel complex just outside.
That left the rest of the field - former Bush administration official Maria Cino, former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner and Michigan National Committeeman Saul Anuzis - rushing into private rooms to discuss possible deals with rivals.
Their backers on the committee, meanwhile, worked the room whipping up votes, but no candidate managed to build up a bloc of support to match Priebus.
Cino, whose bid was supported by House Speaker John Boehner, picked up a boost from the anybody-but-Priebus camp before the fifth round when Steele dropped out and urged his delegates to back her.
Steele earned a standing ovation after delivering a valedictory from the stage.
"I really thank you for the chairmanship of this party, for the two years that I have had and at this time I will step aside for others to lead," he said. "But in so doing I hope you all appreciate the legacy I leave, despite the noise. Despite the difficulties, we won."
Immediately after the endorsement, rumors shot throughout the hotel ballroom that Steele, who had little relationship with Cino prior to Friday's vote, had cut a deal with Boehner in exchange for his support.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel admitted that his team had spoken with Steele about endorsing Cino, but told CNN there was no "quid pro quo deal."
"Boehner has been pretty public about his endorsement, so I think it's fair to say it came up when our folks spoke with [Steele]," the House Speaker's spokesman said in an e-mail.