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.
I wonder if it's going to be "off the hook."
I for one am glad to hear that the GOP is having debt problems. Hopefully, this will slow them down a bit and let people with half a brain run instead of the idiots (I'm looking at you Boehner!) who weaseled their way into congress.
I am just going to go ahead and say this. Steele was the answer to Obama. He was useless. And I am a registered independent and still couldn't see the logic behind Steele. The party was trying to show that they embraced minorities. Look how that worked. Anyway, the got the house and I guess they feel that they don't need a minority any more. back to old white man's politics. Oh, and I am Caucasian in case you think I am a reverse racist trying to play the race card.
Steele has sullied his reputation in this job and effectively ended his political career. He was a terrible administrator/manager.
sorry, but this story is bias on the onset: "controversy-plagued, " "debt-ridden party," "rebuilding the committee's damaged relationship,". I apoligize, but didn't the Republicans just sweep the last election cycle?
It seems kind of ridiculous that a political party can barrow money to run campaigns. If they can't get donations tough luck. With all the dough shelled out on behalf of Republicans in the last election cycle they must be doing something wrong to go into debt.
Now someone else to pick apart professionally and personnally. Awaiting marching orders , tell me why I need to hate this man
He supported Obama's federaral stimulus fund.Is he republican?
Steele was picked because GOP thought they could venture into diversity to steal some of Obama's thunder, but then GOP found out it could do better by catering to far right instead so of course Steele was fired.
Republicans are DEEP in debt! What a surprise. At maybe, if they could pawn off some of their guns....never mind. ;-)
Nice...go from a monority back to the "white man" the left has demonized the Republicans as beng a Party of-
Would have gone a long way to please and assure the base if someone like Ann Wagner got the nod or Cino (even though she is establisment), but no...they shoot themselves in the foot again.
To all you libtards posting here (and those yet to chime in)...What on God's green earth does Palin have to do with any of this?!?!? Nice to see the left take heed of their Messiah's message and put forth a civil tone. Yea, we're on the right track alright...Civility in America!
Oh, wait, I thought this was a story that had something interesting to it. GOP picks a leader. Who cares? How hard is it to remember to always say no???
'Nice to see the left take heed of their Messiah's message and put forth a civil tone'
Said the man using the phrase 'libtards'
They used Steele (Obama) and Palin (Hillary) and unfortunate for Steele, they're kicking him to the curb because they don't need him anymore. Sarah's time is coming too. But first the GOP has to win over her many supporters.
Guess there going back to what they really stood for, tried to TRICK people to think they cared about diversity or people of all races...SORRY WE AREN'T THAT DUMB...unlike Tea Partiers...just because it's wet you can't tell me it water!
Hopefully this keeps him out of my state...
God Bless you Reince Priebus! Take the success you secured in Wisconsin to the national scene. Retaking a 40 year democratic seat, a long established democratic senate seat, both houses of the legislature, and the governorship. You have turned this state back to its true colors! Good Luck! We are with you!
No, need for a "token" in the Republican party anymore, tea baggers have made party racism and bigotry fashionable!
to lead the debt-ridden party. You think that's the GOP's biggest problem, that they're debt-ridden?
So much for future civility in dialog. Preibus is anything but . . .
That's one of the things Malcome X use to talk n now i hope Steel can see which side he's suppose to be. GOP use him lol.
Steele was used by the Republicans to counter the Dems and Obama with his black face. And he did not help himself with all his misteps as well. Now that they are finished using him, they kicked him out. Next up is Sarah Palin. She has been used in the previous midterms, now they are trying to dump her for 2012 Presidential election.
Now, I am no fan of Sarah Palin or the party of NO. I am just pointing out how the GOP works here. They are opportunists, eat their own, and use them up. They have an elitist mentality. When they are finish using up whomever, they throw them under the bus without blinking an eye.
Such a disgruntled group of libs on this comments page. Why so angry? Are you still mad at your daddy for not paying enough attention to you because he had to work so you could go to college and have clothes and food on the table?Oh angry libs you are so diverse – so disgruntled – and so in touch with your feelings and are so down for the struggle. All the while you are being robbed blind by your govt. At least in the old soviet union the people didn't "vote" for their own downfall- they were forced into it.
steele was a failure; regardless of political views, they should have someone competent in charge, hopefully this one will not be a failure.
But you might ask, is the DNC in debt too? The DNC is also in debt but has much less than the RNC, around $12 million as of December. The Democratic National Committee has also been paying down their debt much faster than their Republican counterparts