Winners and losers in the race for Republican Party chairman

The 168 members of the Republican National Committee gathered at their Winter Meeting in Maryland on January 14 to elect a new chairman.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; 7:20 PM

The election of Reince Priebus as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee late last week was that rarest of events in modern politics: a dramatic series of votes in which the outcome was genuinely uncertain.

Priebus, the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, finally claimed victory on the seventh ballot, but he wasn't the only winner of the day - just as Chairman Michael Steele, who bowed out after four rounds, wasn't the only loser.

Here's the Fix's look at the best and worst of the race.


The Republican establishment. Priebus is the safest of safe picks for a party looking to end the drama that surrounded its chairman over the past two years. Priebus ran as the anti-Steele, emphasizing his low-profile approach to politics and his humility. That lack of distractions is exactly what the GOP needs at the moment as field of would-be presidential nominees begins to take shape.

Maria Cino. Before the voting started, almost no one gave Cino, a longtime party operative, much of a chance. But a strong - and surprising - third-place finish on the first ballot set the stage for what was to come. Cino remained a major player in the race to the end and, in so doing, probably bolstered her standing within the party.

Scott Walker/Paul Ryan. Walker, the newly elected governor of Wisconsin, and Ryan, a Badger State congressman, are widely touted as rising national stars in the GOP. Now both have a major home-state advocate sitting at the helm of the RNC.

Henry Barbour. Barbour, a national committee member from Mississippi and the nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, was instrumental in rallying support for Priebus before and during the vote. After being on the losing end of a challenge to Steele in 2009 - Barbour backed then-South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson's candidacy - the Mississippian picked a winner this time around.

The tea party. One of Priebus's strongest selling points for chairman was his ability to unite the establishment and tea party wings in Wisconsin, a tough task that he will now have to repeat at the national level. The recognition of the need to listen to and work with the tea party suggests that the GOP establishment is well aware of the power of the movement.

Twitter. The micro-blogging service proved - yet again - that it is the tool of choice for people hoping to follow the incremental developments in a big political story.

Late-night comics. Stephen Colbert has already done a number on the odd name of the new GOP chairman. Expect more where that came from.


Steele. It was a foregone conclusion that Steele couldn't win a second term. After being rebuked by the 168 members of the RNC, however, he dropped out and endorsed Cino. But even then, Steele couldn't deliver nearly enough votes to overcome Priebus.

Ann Wagner. The former Missouri Republican Party chairman was seen as the most likely candidate to challenge Priebus's front-runner status when the voting began. But Wagner started slowly and was never able to build significant momentum. And when she dropped out of the race after the sixth ballot she endorsed no one, thus leaving little mark on the proceedings.

John Boehner. The new House speaker made a major play on behalf of Cino, even appearing at an event for her on the same day as the memorial service after the shootings in Tucson - a move that drew considerable criticism from Democrats. While Cino did outperform expectations, she didn't win - meaning that Boehner picked the wrong horse to lead the party.

Late-night comics. With Steele in the public eye far less after his ouster as chairman, it could be a bit of a political dry season on late-night TV.

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