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RNC ousts chairman Steele; elects Priebus

OXON HILL, Md. - The national Republican Party, coming off huge election victories but facing a $22-million debt and an internal war over identity, ousted chairman Michael Steele on Friday and chose Wisconsin party chief Reince Priebus to lead in the run-up to the 2012 presidential race.

The embattled Steele dropped his re-election bid halfway through the balloting when it became clear he could not win another two-year term after a first marked by verbal missteps and financial woes.

"We have to get on track. And together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012," Priebus said in a brief victory speech, pleading for unity within the fractured 168-member Republican National Committee. "We all recognize that there's a steep hill here ahead of us, and the only way that we'll be able to move forward is if we're all together."

A former top lieutenant to Steele, Priebus promised to hire top-notch staff, restructure the organization and put it on solid financial footing so the next GOP presidential nominee will be prepared to take on Obama.

For the next two years, Priebus will serve as the top spokesman promoting the party's agenda, countering Democrats, raising money to help Republicans and improving a get-out-the-vote effort that critics say languished under Steele.

Most urgently, the new chairman must retire an RNC debt of about $22 million owed to vendors and banks, as well as lure back demoralized donors who have been so frustrated with Steele's management that they sent their dollars elsewhere or didn't open their wallets at all last year. The party had only about $1 million cash on hand at year's end.

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