RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans chose former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes Saturday to help lead their effort to end the Democrats' 20-year lease on the governor's mansion next year.
Hayes, 65, easily turned back challenges from tea party elements by promising to stay true to GOP principles and to emphasize grassroots politics.
"We are marching off to win for the people of North Carolina," Hayes told the state Republican Executive committee meeting at the Brownstone Hotel, after his victory. "We are CPR party - conservative principles restored."
Hayes won 241 votes, easily outdistancing Tim Johnson, the party's current vice chairman, who received 47 votes; Marcus Kindley, the former Guilford County Republican Party chairman who got 21 votes; and Bob Pruett, the 3rd district chairman with 29 votes.
Hayes succeeds former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, who steps down to form his own lobbying and public affairs firm.
In selecting Hayes, the GOP is turning to one of its old war horses - but a rare political breed: an heir to the Cannon textile fortune with the genial style of a Bubba, tied into the business community and well regarded among Christian conservatives.
He was strongly supported for the chairmanship by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and most of the new Republican legislative leadership, including House Speaker-designate Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger, both of whom attended the meeting.
Hayes, a Concord resident, has been a state legislator and the GOP nominee for governor, and represented the 8th district in the U.S House for a decade before losing the seat in 2008 to Democrat Larry Kissell.
But some Republicans saw Hayes as too tied to the establishment. Tim D'Annunzio, a former U.S. House candidate spurned by party leaders, sponsored a banner ad on the online Drudge Report last week that read, "Stop the RINO establishment from controlling the GOP."
Johnson, the state's first African-American vice chairman, criticized bloggers for attacking his record and background, saying they had "made this a nasty, contentious race."
He also noted that the last time the Republicans controlled the legislature, in the 1800s, there were black GOP members - not so today.
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