Former Rep. Robin Hayes (left), shown here with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, has been elected chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.
Former Rep. Robin Hayes was elected as the new chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party on Saturday, while the Florida GOP selected David Bitner to be its leader for the 2012 cycle.
Hayes, who had the support of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and two state legislative leaders, won the post on the first ballot at a meeting of the state GOP executive committee in Raleigh, according to the Associated Press. His leading opponents were current state party vice chairman Tim Johnson and former Guilford County GOP Chairman Marcus Kindley.
Hayes will have to run for a full two-year term in June at a larger state GOP convention. He succeeds outgoing chairman Tom Fetzer, who announced in November he was leaving his post before his term ended.
Hayes served 10 years in Congress and was defeated in 2008 by now-Rep. Larry Kissell (D), who narrowly won re-election to the Charlotte-area 8th district last year.
The Tar Heel State wasn't the only place where Republicans were selecting a new leader Saturday. Florida Republicans elected Bitner their new chairman after a nasty and divisive fight.
A former state legislator and lobbyist, Bitner was selected by the state GOP officials and activists gathered at Disney World for the party's annual meeting.
Bitner, who served in the state House from 1992 to 2000, defeated Hillsborough Republican Chairwoman Deborah Cox-Roush, Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein, Sarasota GOP Chairman Joe Gruters and Pinellas state Committeeman Tony DiMatteo.
Similar to national Republicans ó who elected a new Republican National Committee chairman Friday to succeed the controversial Michael Steele ó the Florida GOP is also looking to turn the page after a rocky period. Bitner succeeds state Sen. John Thrasher, who took over the job when Jim Greer was ousted last year. After being forced to give up his post last February, Greer was arrested and charged on six felony counts, including theft, organized fraud and money laundering.
President Barack Obama carried both North Carolina and Florida in 2008, and both are expected to be key battlegrounds in 2012. North Carolina will also host a potentially competitive gubernatorial race in two years and in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is considered a top target for Republicans.