January 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Preibus elected as new RNC chair

The Republican National Committee took a new direction on Friday when it elected the chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party — who has stated opposition to same-sex marriage — as its new head.

Reince Priebus claimed the position after seven rounds voting by winning 97 votes among the delegates voting at the conference. To win this chairmanship, Preibus needed to obtain 85 votes.

In the final round of voting, Maria Cino, who served most recently as deputy chair of the RNC, received 43 votes, while Saul Anuzis, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, received 28 votes.

Michael Steele, the immediate former chair of the RNC, dropped out after the fouth round of voting as he was struggling to find votes necessary to maintain his position. The gaffe-prone Steele had served for two years as RNC chair before deciding to withdraw.

Upon taking the podium for his acceptance speech, Priebus thanked both God and Jesus for his victory. He called for unification of the Republican Party so members of the GOP could mount a more concerted effort to oust President Obama from the White House in 2012.

“We all recognize that there’s a steep hill here ahead of us, and the only way we’ll be able to move forward is if we’re all together,” Priebus said. “We must never forget why we all do this. Because as [President] Reagan said, ‘Our nation is that shining city upon a hill.’ We must work to keep it that way.”

Priebus said he wants to begin his leadership by putting a in place “solid business plan” to “operate effectively and efficiency to begin to restore the faith of our donors.”

“We must know how to spend these funds effectively to aid in our redistricting efforts, to support our 2011 candidates, to hold a world-class convention and to be sure that our Republican presidential nominee has the organization in place to beat Barack Obama,” he said.

The new chair also said he wants to develop a new line of communication with state parties and Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Where Priebus will lead the Republican Party on LGBT issues remains to be seen, alth0ugh he’s known for having a history of opposition to same-sex marriage.

Gay bloggers have expressed concern about how Priebus pledged to block marriage rights for same-sex couples in a video posted online prior to his election in response to a question National Organization for Marriage chair Maggie Gallagher.

“There are certain legal definitions that are not just legal and not just protected by our Constitution, but they’re also protected by the sanctity of marriage given to us by God,” Priebus said.

Priebus said he doesn’t believe judges should advance same-sex marriage in their states through court rulings and emphasized the importance of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The new RNC chair also recalled how he took part in the 2006 effort in Wisconsin to institute a state constitutional ban on gay nuptials.

“I was a part of that,” he said. “I was helpful to make sure that that happened. I was helpful to our attorney general to make sure that that’s happened.

Gay Republicans and GOP organizations have expressed optimism about the election of the new RNC chair and the direction he would take the party.

In a statement, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, praised Preibus calling for unification of the Republican Party over “common interests.”

“Inclusion wins and our party is strongest when we embrace a big tent philosophy centered on the core principles that unite us as Republicans,” Cooper said. “It is onward and upward to win back the White House.”

Via e-mail to the Washington Blade, Cooper commended Preibus for focusing on new management of the RNC during his acceptance speech.

“Chairman Priebus’s first comments focused solely on the operations and management of the RNC as well as raising money for the 2012 cycle,” Cooper said. “He emphasized for all the party elements to work as a team. Prior to the election, Preibus called for additional grassroots and coalition efforts.”

Chris Barron, chair of GOProud, said the election of Preibus marks the end of “Michael Steele’s disastrous tenure at the RNC.”

“The election of Reince Priebus marks a changing of the guard,” Barron said. “Finally we will have an RNC Chair who understands that his or her role is to raise money and build party infrastructure, not to sell books, hire friends and family, and pontificate on policy.”

In July, GOProud was among the GOP organizations calling for Steele’s ouster after then-RNC chair made remarks suggesting that the war in Afghanistan was unwinnable.

Torrey Shearer, a gay D.C. Republican activist, said Preibus’ election is exciting because he would be bring new energy to the Republican Party to capitalize on recent victories at the ballot box.

“This is an opportunity to build on our success from the mid term elections and strengthen the GOP for success in 2012,” Shearer said. “The election of Reince provides a fresh face to a growing movement of Americans wanting a change from the status quo.”

Asked where he thinks Priebus will lead the Republican Party on LGBT issues, Shearer said such movement would “come from the party’s membership, not from its leadership.”

“The recent critical support of GOP members of the House and Senate illustrates the growing acceptance of our issues in the GOP mainstream,” Shearer said

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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