Priebus was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin and  graduated from George Nelson Tremper High School in 1990. He obtained a bachelor's degree in Political Science and English in 1994 from University of Wisconsin–Whitewater (where he was student body president), worked in the Wisconsin Legislature for a year, and then went to law school, receiving a law degree from University of Miami School of Law in 1998. During his time there, he interned for the NAACP legal defense fund in Los Angeles. In 1998, he joined the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP in Milwaukee.
In 2004, in his first bid for public office, Priebus unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Robert Wirch for a seat in the Wisconsin Senate, where Priebus reportedly spent $384,486 to Wirch's $182,595.
Priebus was elected state GOP party chair in 2007, the youngest person ever elected to that position. In 2009, he became general counsel of the RNC under chairman Michael Steele.
In the wake of his candidacy for chairman of the Republican National Committee, Priebus has come under fire from conservative activists for his role in seeking federal stimulus funds during his time at the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm in 2009. Priebus was a member of the firm's "Stimulus Legislation Team," which sought to "identify opportunities, prepare appropriate proposals and make targeted contacts to secure [federal] funds.”
Priebus was elected as Chairman of the Republican National Committee on January 14, 2011. Elected on the seventh ballot, following Ann Wagner's withdrawal from the race, Priebus received the votes of 97 of the 186 committee members.