THE REINCE PRIEBUS ERA BEGINS AT THE RNC…. It took seven ballots, but Republican National Committee members chose a new chairman late yesterday afternoon, replacing Michael Steele with Reince Priebus. The 38-year-old Wisconsinite takes over at a difficult time for the RNC — the committee is $21 million in debt, is struggling to pay its bills, and is burdened by two years of widespread mismanagement.

Priebus, a former Steele ally, appears to have been chosen for the job precisely because he has so little in common with his predecessor. Priebus is not a good speaker, has no media presence, has no real background in debates, but the RNC decided early on that charisma and a hunger for publicity is what the party had, so members went in the opposite direction, picking a low-key, mild-mannered candidate.

Perhaps the most pressing question at this point is, who’s Reince Priebus?

Mr. Priebus, 38, the chairman of the Wisconsin state party, presided over sweeping statewide and local Republican victories in the midterm elections, including the defeat of Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat. He was the preferred candidate of much of the Republican establishment and was recruited by party elders to replace Mr. Steele, whose stewardship of the party had become a central issue in the race.

Even in the intimate circles of Republican Party politics, Mr. Priebus is far from well known. He rose through the political ranks from his hometown, Pleasant Prairie, working as a local activist, the state party treasurer and finally the state chairman, which he became four years ago — making him a member of the Republican National Committee. He also served as the committee’s general counsel.

Facing television cameras moments after his election, he was still wearing a nametag on his lapel. He conceded that he has limited experience on television, but he said his chief role would be raising money and working on the nuts and bolts of the party’s operation rather than being a frequent guest on national news programs.

Priebus was the wire-to-wire frontrunner for the gig, though he faced some questions about his alliance with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a likely 2012 presidential candidate, raising concerns about his neutrality in the upcoming nominating fight. The concerns, obviously, did little to derail Priebus’ bid.

Of greater concern to the left, however, is Priebus’ style of campaign tactics. Paul Breer noted, for example, “While Priebus was chair of the Wisconsin GOP, the state party fomented voter fraud conspiracies and hatched a voter caging plot with well-funded right-wing allies to suppress minority votes. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross said, ‘When voter suppression allegations have surfaced in Wisconsin for the past decade, the name Reince Priebus isn’t far behind.’”


As for the pronunciation of his name, the “ei” in “Reince” sounds like a long i, so it rhymes with rye bread, for example. The “ie” in “Priebus” sounds like a long e. It’s like referencing a Toyota Prius, but with a b in the middle.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.