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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reince Priebus: Who Is He? Vows To Help Defeat Obama In 2012

G.O.P. Leader’s Promise: Humility & Hard Work

For Reince Priebus, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, politics has long been more than simply a hobby. It provided the entertainment for the first date with his wife.

More than a decade ago, when Representatives Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin were delivering keynote speeches at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Kenosha, Wis., Mr. Priebus reserved two tickets and turned the event into part of his courtship.

“I know. Nerd alert,” Mr. Priebus said in an interview a few hours after he was elected on Friday to lead the national Republican Party. His voice was filled with self-deprecation as he recalled the moment “But we went to a movie after that.”

Humility was a key selling point for Mr. Priebus as he embarked on a two-month campaign to overthrow Michael Steele, the controversial party chairman, and begin the challenging task of rebuilding a committee that is more than $21 million in debt and competing for relevance in an age when the political establishment is no longer the most popular place to be.

The annals of national political chairmen are filled with former governors, senators and an array of well-established party elders. At 38, Mr. Priebus could well be mistaken for a junior member of the chairman’s staff, rather than the chairman himself, but he emerged as the leading choice to succeed Mr. Steele largely because of a pledge to crave the workload, not the spotlight.

“We need a lot of money,” Mr. Priebus said, setting a goal of raising $400 million in two years. “We need a chairman that’s going to put his head down and spend literally five, six hours every day making major donor calls, major donor visits, literally working like an absolute dog for the next two years getting our fiscal house in order.”

The chairman’s race was dominated by financial concerns, particularly how to rebuild the trust of major contributors and begin paying overdue bills and retiring the debt. Social issues that once dictated party elections were discussed only briefly. Mr. Priebus said he was conservative and opposed abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but he added, “Right now, I think that we’re clearly focused on saving our country from walking off a fiscal cliff.”

While few policy differences surfaced among Mr. Priebus and his four rivals, he did not emerge as the winner until the seventh round of balloting on Friday, illustrating a divide inside the committee and the sentiment from some members that Mr. Priebus lacked experience, a connection to the grass roots and the vision to expand the party’s reach through new technologies.

As Republican chairman, Mr. Priebus will oversee the nuts and bolts of the party’s internal operations, the presidential nominating convention in 2012 and fund-raising efforts to strengthen state parties to prepare to challenge President Obama.

He said he had no intention of serving as the party’s leading voice, a duty, he said, better left to the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, or the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But he knows he will have to spend a bit of time explaining his name.

A few minutes after his election was official on Friday, Mr. Priebus held his first news conference. The first topic was not his vision for the Republican National Committee, but a self-introduction and pronunciation lesson.

“My name is Reince Priebus,” he said, slowly saying his given name, which rhymes with pints (like pints of his favorite beer, Wisconsin’s own Miller High Life) and his family name (PREE-bus). He advised reporters to review an episode of “The Colbert Report” last week on Comedy Central, on which his name provided fodder for a full segment titled “What is a Reince Priebus?”

“I know it’s a tough name,” Mr. Priebus said. “That’s what happens when you have a Greek and a German for a parent — you get a name like mine.

The path to his election began in Kenosha. Mr. Priebus said his earliest political memory was from the third grade at Pleasant Prairie Elementary School there, when he was the self-appointed manager of Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid. Years later, after graduating from law school at the University of Miami, where he briefly overlapped with Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, he returned to Wisconsin and began climbing through the ranks of party politics while working as a lawyer at a Milwaukee firm.

He lost his only campaign for elective office: a State Senate seat in 2004. (“I came up short,” he said, “but I raised a lot of money.”) But he thrived at the insider’s game, serving as state treasurer and chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, which automatically placed him on the Republican National Committee.

He was a close ally of Mr. Steele’s, working as his general counsel, but other party leaders persuaded him to run for chairman and try to turn around the committee.

Mr. Priebus, who lives in Kenosha with his wife, Sally, and two children, Jack, 6, and Grace, almost 1, said he intended to move to Washington, site of the committee headquarters, with his family. As Mr. Priebus was handed the chairman’s gavel, Sally Priebus stood on the side of the room and called the next two years “a big adventure.”

“Reince has good motives,” Ms. Priebus said in an interview. “He has a good heart. He is humble. He works hard. He is very passionate about this. And I believe this is what he was made to do.”

Preibus Proved He Can Cut It

The election of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus after seven ballots Friday by the Republican National Committee provides the Party with a fresh start toward retiring its $21 million debt and preparing for the 2012 Election against a President with $1 billion swag.

Priebus, 38, proved to be a worthy leader. He ran a tight campaign, took several punches and showed himself both nimble with disillusioned supporters of Michael Steele and those eager for anyone but the incumbent. When Steele released his votes after the third round of voting and urged them to vote for veteran operative Maria Cino, most went to Priebus on subsequent rounds. The ballroom at the Gaylord National hotel was rift with rumors of efforts by Steele to cut a financial deal with Cino and former Ambassador Ann Wagner of Missouri. After Steele left the race, many urged Cino and Saul Anuzis to strike a compact, where Cino would emerge as chairman and Anuzis, the former chairman from Michigan and current RNC member, as co-chairman.

Anuzis, to his lasting credit, cut no deals and hoped for "second" votes. Priebus held his tally and steadily added to it. He proved he could count and keep his count.

Priebus was humble in his remarks and made the right call by canceling any post-election festivities. Most of the Members, worn out by a day of Conga-line voting and deal-making, got room service or made their way to the airport.

The new chairman is a hard worker by all indications and there was little rancor after the voting. The debt can be retired as major donors return to the fold and party activists get back into the rhythm of a Presidential cycle. It will take everyone to out the GOP back on the path but most of the RNC members were upbeat about doing it. The thought of a second Obama term has a way of motivating even the most reticent Republican.

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Sources: AP, CNN, Make Blue Red Blog, NY Times, Youtube, Google Maps

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