Mark Willis, Republican National Committeeman for Maine, talks to fellow party members on Saturday Jan. 12, 2013 after a state committee meeting in Augusta City Center.
WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Republican National Committee easily won a second term Friday after the only declared challenger – a party activist from Maine – failed to get enough support to qualify for the election.
Reince Priebus of Wisconsin was re-elected by party loyalists by a near-unanimous vote at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C. The Associated Press reported that only two of the 168 committee members did not vote to re-elect Priebus, both of them from Maine.
One of Maine's three committee members, Mark Willis of Dennysville, waged a scrappy campaign in recent weeks to challenge Priebus at Friday's meeting.
Willis represents the party's libertarian wing, which backed U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas during the 2012 Republican primaries.
Willis needed endorsements from the majority of committee members in at least three states to qualify for Friday's election. He reportedly won endorsements from Maine and Nevada and was working on a third.
But by the deadline Thursday night, the Nevada delegation was backing Priebus after meeting with the chairman earlier this week, Politico reported.
"There were certainly some promises exchanged," Nevada committeeman James Smack, a Paul supporter, told Politico. "We're not talking about money. We're talking about promises, though, that he's going to work on getting some doors open for us that have been closed by whatever means -- whether that be through some of the casino owners or what have you."
Willis could not be reached for comment Friday.
His long-shot candidacy and his failure to get on the ballot underscore the challenge facing the small but vocal ranks of libertarians in the Republican Party.
Willis gained credibility within those ranks last summer when he and other pro-Paul delegates from Maine fought unsuccessfully to keep their seats at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
By securing a nomination at Friday's meeting, Willis could have forced a public debate with Priebus over the party's huge losses in November and the treatment of Paul and his supporters.
But most committee members were content to avoid airing an internal debate as the party tries to regroup. All of the candidates for party leadership positions ran unopposed.
After his re-election, Priebus told the gathering that the party needs a "permanent, national field infrastructure" based in communities throughout the country with the latest digital tools -- a reference to the massive, high-tech operation that propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.
Priebus said the party must also change and grow to survive.
"We have to find more supporters. We have to go places we haven't been and we have to invite new people to join us," Priebus said.
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