Reince Priebus, the new low-key chairman of the Republican National Committee, helped lead Michael Steele’s successful 2009 campaign for RNC chairman. He ran Steele’s transition and became general counsel of the RNC. Then the two had a falling out.
On Friday night, in a move few could have foreseen two years ago, the 38-year-old diminutive chairman of the Wisconsin Republicans vanquished Steele to himself become national chairman.
It was the remarkable end of a wildly successful election cycle for Priebus. Barack Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points, but tea-party favorite Ron Johnson toppled three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and Republican Scott Walker replaced a Democratic governor in the 2010 midterms.
Priebus, a partner at a corporate law firm who grew up modestly in Kenosha, methodically climbed the ladder from local volunteer to chairman of the 1st District Republicans to state party treasurer to state vice chairman and then state chairman in 2007.
Now he and his wife, Sally, will look for a house in Washington to move with their two young children. Jack is five; Grace will soon celebrate her first birthday.
“This is a big adventure,” Sally Priebus said in an interview.
Priebus often jokes about the pronunciation of his Greek name. The name is Rhine with a hard s at the end and pree-bus. After winning a hard-fought contest, he still pronounced his name carefully for reporters at a hastily convened press conference and encouraged people to Google a Comedy Central clip if they wanted to know how to pronounce his name.
Priebus’s mother, Dimitra, said in an interview that her son started volunteering for Republican causes when he was 10 years old by putting signs in people’s yards. His father, Roula, was once a union electrician and now works in real estate.
“We’d fill my car with signs, and I’d drive him around,” she said.
After he lost a 2004 bid for the state Senate against an incumbent Democrat, despite outspending him almost 2-to-1, Priebus redoubled his focus on party politics.
His activist background appeals to rank-and-file committee RNC committee members, and his electoral successes in Wisconsin last year made him palatable to the operative class. Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.
“He was definitely a member’s kind of chairman,” said Iowa committeewoman Kim Lehman, an influential anti-abortion activist who backed Priebus early after following his tenure in Wisconsin.
(Read More: Politico)