Reince Priebus

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ELECTED

Some of us have the bad fortune to follow in the footsteps of giants. Reince Priebus has the benefit of succeeding Michael Steele.

On Jan. 14 the Republican National Committee (RNC) tapped Priebus, 38, to be its new chairman. And while his predecessor set a low bar, he also bequeaths a tarnished brand. Steele's uneven stewardship, which left the RNC mired in drama and debt, prompted many donors to forgo the party's traditional fundraising arm this cycle in favor of funneling their cash to outlets like the Republican Governors Association or outside groups like American Crossroads.

Priebus may seem an unlikely pick to resurrect the RNC, not least because he served a stint as one of Steele's top lieutenants. But the former Wisconsin GOP chair campaigned as a diligent, low-key leader who would sidestep the spotlight and tighten the screws at an organization that has lately lapsed into chaos and profligacy. After raking in $14 million in Wisconsin, he hopes to raise $400 million to help unseat Barack Obama in 2012.

Priebus has long had the political bug (as a teen, he took his future bride to a political banquet for the couple's first date) and as a young lawyer quickly climbed the rungs of the Republican ladder, serving as a legislative aide and local leader before taking the reins in the Badger State, where the GOP notched victories in Senate and gubernatorial races in November.

He says he is more interested in retiring the RNC's more than $20 million debt and burnishing the group's credibility than serving as a flashy figurehead during his two years at the helm. But Priebus will also need to cushion inevitable collisions between the party's social conservative, Establishment and Tea Party factions. Not being Michael Steele is a start, but it's only that.