Friday's election took more than five hours and only three candidates remained by the last round of voting. Aside from Priebus, no other candidate secured more than 50 votes all day, and Anuzis, Wagner, Cino and Steele each struggled in vain to find a path to victory.
The candidates and their supporters lobbied other members throughout the day, but Priebus never lost the momentum he had going into the vote.
"It obviously took a little longer than we would have wanted," said one of Priebus' chief supporters, Mississippi committeeman Henry Barbour. "The good news for Reince was every round he went up a little bit and kept it steady, and at some point momentum kicked it."
Barbour, the nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, was an early promoter of Priebus' candidacy within the committee.
Steele's support declined steadily through four rounds of balloting. He never improved on his first-round showing of 44 votes, and by the fourth vote, his supporters had dwindled to just 28.
He based his campaign on the GOP's impressive midterm election victories and as recently as this week trumpeted the RNC's role in those successes in a memo he circulated among the members.
"The efforts of our party -- a party once tagged as an endangered species -- speaks for itself," Steele told his members on Friday before voting began. "I hope all of you, regardless of the outcome of this day, appreciate what you've done to establish firmly the Republican renaissance that we all talked about two years ago."
He also signaled that as chairman he would be open to bridging the gap between establishment Republicans and Tea Party groups.
"I'm part of the grassroots movement," Priebus declared. "Our party is part of the conservative movement in this country, we're not in competition with it."
The new chairman has vowed to be a nuts-and-bolts leader -- a tacit rejection of Steele's up-front, provocative style that earned him a reputation as a gaffe-prone chairman.
Despite those foibles and what had become a growing sentiment among many of the RNC's 168 members that change was needed at the top, Steele received two standing ovations as he bowed out of the race on Friday.
"And now I exit stage right," he said.