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Priebus wins RNC chairmanship

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro and Mark Murray
Wisconsin Party Chairman Reince Priebus was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee after seven rounds of voting and more than four hours. Priebus garnered 97 votes, a majority of the 168 RNC members.

Michigan Committeeman Saul Anuzis finished second with 43 votes, while former Bush official Maria Cino, who had the backing of House Speaker John Boehner and former Vice President Dick Cheney, finished with 28 votes.

"I want to thank God and Jesus for this moment," Priebus said. "I am so blessed. ... I am completely humbled."

He added, "We can't wait to rebuild this party" and "move on to conservative candidates. ... We have to get on track, and together we can beat Barack Obama in 2012. Together, unified. ... now is the time for the committee to unite... for the betterment of our party and our country. I will earn your trust. I'm going to start working right now as your chairman. We all recognize there's a steep hill ahead of us. The only way we can move forward is if we're all together."

He added, "The Democrats have taken this country on the wrong path."

The first step, he said, is to put a "solid business plan in place" and "restore the faith of our donors." but he acknowledged it's about more than money.

It's remarkable in one respect that Priebus was elected chairman because of his ties to former Chairman Michael Steele. Priebus, not only served as the RNC's general counsel under Steele, but also served as Steele's campaign manager two years ago.

There were some hurt feelings with Steele toward Priebus, someone who was once such a staunch supporter. It's one reason Steele didn't endorse Priebus. Steele asked his supporters to vote for Maria Cino, a former Bush official.

But Priebus made the case that he was the man for the job because of his low-key style and above all, the GOP's successes in Wisconsin, a Rust Belt state that was the closest state of the 2004 general election but won by a wide margin by Barack Obama in 2008.

Republicans picked up the governorship, ousted liberal Sen. Russ Feingold in one of the 2010 cycle's bigger surprises, and picked up two House seats.

Priebus was supported early by Mississippi Committeeman Henry Barbour, the nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC Chairman and potential 2012 GOP candidate.

As chairman, Priebus might faces a challenge of avoiding the perception of favoritism toward Barbour if he decides to run.

"Haley really isn't an issue," said one Republican tied to the committee. "If Haley runs, the chair has to go straight down the middle. People will try and make noise of it, but he's a general counsel. He knows how to walk that line very well