Guilford County Republicans have elected Al Bouldin to be their next chairman by a vote of 119 to 97, denying a bid by tea party activist Jeff Hyde.
The election of Bouldin, who announced his candidacy only two days ago following the surprise withdrawal of Theresa Yon, marks a setback for Conservatives for Guilford County, a tea-party inspired group. Hyde, the group's co-founder, had pledged to push the party in a more conservative direction.
Bouldin will lead the party with Jon Firebaugh as vice chair, Nancy Bishop as secretary, Hallie Jessup as treasurer and Michael Picarelli as executive director.
Leaving the party convention, which was held at Vandalia Christian School outside of Greensboro, Conservatives for Guilford County members expressed disappointment, but pledged to remain active.
"I think the party would be much better if it was Jeff Hyde," said Isabella Adkins. "I will be just as active as I was before."
Jodi Riddleberger added, "We'll keep doing what we're doing. It doesn't change anything."
After the vote, Bouldin pledged to unite the party.
"I've worked in the past with Conservatives for Guilford County and Freedom Works and within the Republican Party," he said. "Starting tomorrow, I expect to reach out to these people."
Bouldin attributed the strong feelings surrounding this contest to the heightened stakes of next year's presidential election.
"This is a very important election cycle, and everybody knows it," he said. "As Republicans we're all united in our desire to advance conservative principles and and help Republican candidates win."
Former state representative Laura Wiley nominated winning candidate Bouldin, while Joanne Wittenborn gave the nominating speech for Hyde. Former chairman Marcus Kindley was also nominated, but declined to stand for election.
Delegates said this county party election was more divisive than past contests. As a mark of the raw feelings surrounding the race, outgoing Executive Director Tony Wilkins said Hyde called him out during his speech. As Wilkins paraphrased the speech, Hyde said, "Tony Wilkins can hang out with Nancy Vaughan, Jordan Green and Ed Cone and I will hang out with Thomas Jefferson."
The remark referred to this reporter, Greensboro Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan -- who is unaffiliated and the wife of NC Sen. Don Vaughan, whom Hyde ran against last year -- and blogger Ed Cone. (This reporter and Joe Killian at the News & Record were not allowed to come inside the convention hall. Wilkins said party bylaws restrict attendance of conventions to registered Republicans. Accordingly, Rhinoceros Times Editor John Hammer was the only reporter given access.)
Celebrating the outcome afterward with friends at Stumble Stilskins, Yon likened her withdrawal from the race to a football end-around.
"I had become a figure that was being attacked," she said. "I wanted my team to win. I felt like they were the best ones for the party. Wednesday morning I started to worry they might not win, and I felt guilty that they might not win because of me."
Bouldin said, "Theresa Yon approached me and expressed concern about how divisive the race had become. Theresa and Jeff had become lightning rods. She said she didn't do this for ego as a springboard to the state legislature. She felt if she stepped aside it would help heal the divisions more quickly. She asked me to step forward, and I graciously accepted."
Yon said she became the target of smears from the Hyde camp in the final week of the campaign.
"Several people from Jeff Hyde's group started calling Republicans, saying I was going to be exclusionary and unwelcoming. About four days after the precinct organization meeting, Jeff Hyde called me to tell me he was running. He said to me on the phone: 'Theresa, you'll be exclusionary, unwelcoming, controlling and ungracious.'"
In the last two weeks, Yon said Hyde supporters started spreading rumors that if she won the chairmanship, she would be a "puppet" of Kindley. Yon denied the assertion, saying that although Kindley worked a poll for her during her state House campaign last year and although the two have a cordial relationship, she is her own person.
UPDATE: Report from colleague Killian.