For many Republican National Committee members and GOP activists, the real headline after Friday’s defeat of RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele was “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour defeats House Speaker John A. Boehner.”
The newly-elected RNC chairman, Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, was the behind-the-scenes choice of Mr. Barbour, who is considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination next year and can benefit from having his man heading up the GOP’s top fundraising and campaign organization.
Mr. Priebus bested Mr. Boehner’s choice for the post, former Bush administration official Maria Cino, and two other rivals by the seventh round of voting Friday in the Gaylord National Hotel ballroom at National Harbor.
Miss Cino — by far the most experienced manager and fundraiser of all the candidates, having run two GOP presidential nominating conventions — also had the backing of former Vice President Dick Cheney, his daughter Mary Cheney and former Bush administration official Mary Matalan.
In his victory speech to the 168-member RNC, Mr. Priebus took swipe after swipe at his former friend, Mr. Steele, telling the members that they are “the board of directors,” “I may be the CEO, but we are all employees of our donors.” Mr. Steele has been under attack for almost two years for squandering donors’ money. Mr. Priebus told members the RNC would raise money effectively and spend it wisely “to beat Barack Obama.”
For Mr. Barbour, it was a make or break election. For much of the past two years, he had failed to find a way to induce Mr. Steele, the most widely condemned RNC chairman in memory, to quit the chairmanship, to which he was elected in January 2009. Mr. Barbour simply could not afford to let himself get tagged as a paper tiger in national GOP politics.
For Mr. Boehner, it was a chance to show he has more power and knowledge of how to project that power successfully on the national stage than many Republicans believe he has.
The Priebus win also enhances the image of the RNC’s leading conservative insurgent, Jim Bopp, a constitutional lawyer from Indiana.
A co-founder with Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue of the Republican National Committee’s Conservative Caucus and the RNC’s Conservative Steering Committee, Mr. Bopp surprised some colleagues when he endorsed Mr. Priebus after having questioned his integrity. Mr. Priebus had served as RNC general counsel under Mr. Steele and was his chief adviser and confidante when Mr. Steele was pocketing money for speeches as chairman, profiting from sales of a book he wrote as chairman and handing out jobs to friends and associates at record-high salaries and bonuses.
As Mr. Steele’s two-year term was winding up, Mr. Priebus quit as counsel, attacked Mr. Steele’s fundraising and managerial competence — and then proceeded to run against him for RNC chairman in the election on Friday.
But when Mr. Steele, whose vote total high was 44 in the first round, stopped his ballot-after-ballot vote erosion by pulling out after the fifth round of voting, he urged his 28 remaining supporters to vote for Miss Cino. But she picked up only 11 extra votes in the sixth round; Mr. Priebus picked up nine more votes.
In what veteran members described as “revenge voting,” non-Priebus voters on the RNC helped Florida RNC member Sharon Day upset incumbent RNC Co-chairman Jan Larimer of Wyoming, and D.C. RNC member Tony Parker defeated incumbent Treasurer Randy Pullen, who had struggled to wrestle from Mr. Steele and his top lieutenants accurate spending and debt figures to report to the Federal Elections Commission — and who was a hero to many on the national committee.