Updated: 6:31 p.m.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on Friday, winning on the seventh ballot with 97 votes.
Only three of the original five candidates remained on the final ballot, which came more than four hours after the election began. Former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, who finished third in the 2009 chairman’s race, finished second with 43 votes, and former RNC official Maria Cino came next with 28 votes.
“Together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012, together, unified as a committee,” Priebus told committee members in a brief victory speech. “With the election over, now is the time for the committee to unite.”
The final result came after a series of negotiations and deal-cutting between the candidates. The first deal to be struck was between Cino and former Chairman Michael Steele, who dropped out after the fourth round and urged his supporters to back Cino.
It was the first game-changer in the race and pushed Cino to 40 votes on the fifth ballot. However, she picked up only 11 of Steele’s 28 supporters, while Priebus and Anuzis picked up the other 17 combined. Cino also had the backing of Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).
Steele and former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner met in backrooms a handful of times, with reporters chasing them down the hotel hallway as they exited. Anuzis met with Steele as well and also could be seen huddling with a group of his supporters just outside the ballroom where the general session was held.
By the sixth round, Priebus had won 80 votes and needed just five more to win. After the vote, one state party chairman told Roll Call, “I don’t see how it’s not” over.
Wagner dropped out after the sixth round but did not endorse anyone. However, it appeared all of her supporters went to Priebus — Wagner had 17 votes in the sixth round, and Priebus increased his vote total by exactly 17 votes in the seventh round.
Priebus was the only candidate to increase his vote through all balloting rounds, and the only candidate to get more than 50 votes at any point in the process. Other candidates saw their vote tallies follow a roller-coaster path from round to round, something not seen in the 2009 RNC election.
Priebus used the 2010 success in Wisconsin as the backbone of his candidacy: Republicans flipped a Senate seat, two House seats, the governorship and both chambers of the state Legislature in Wisconsin in November.
He entered Friday’s vote as the frontrunner, despite his ties to Steele, who had been criticized by Republicans both in and out of the committee for perceived financial and organizational miscues. Priebus managed Steele’s successful bid for the chairmanship in 2009.
The goal now, Priebus said, is to raise money and spend it wisely so the party can compete with Obama in 2012.
Soon after the vote, American Crossroads issued a favorable statement. They were among the GOP’s outside groups that played a critical role in 2010 as some big donors did not feel comfortable giving money to an RNC run by Steele.
“[M]embers of the committee could not have chosen a better leader than Priebus,” said Steven Law, American Crossroads’ president.
Boehner congratulated Priebus and pledged the new chairman “can count on my support.”
“With the Senate and White House in play and a new House Majority to defend, Republicans will face great challenges in the upcoming campaign,” Boehner said in a statement. “Reince can count on my support as we work to ensure that Republican candidates have the resources and the ground game needed to win the battle of ideas with President Obama and his Democratic allies.”
The goal now, Priebus said, is to raise money and spend it wisely so the party can compete with Obama in 2012. The committee begins the year with some $22 million in debt, and Priebus said the RNC will need to bring back many of the large donors that gave to other GOP groups like American Crossroads last year.
“We obviously have to raise about $400 million over the next two years,” Priebus told reporters after he won the election. “We’re going to do that through regional finance teams, regional finance directors — like I said before — getting the finance chairmen around this country back on board, putting the RNC back on their shoulders and rebuilding this party. It’s going to take hard work. I have no illusions about that.”