COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Republicans opted for new leadership Saturday, voting to replace state party Chairman David Cole with St. Louis attorney Ed Martin.
The Republican State Committee elected Martin chairman in a 34-32 vote during the second round of balloting. Martin ran for attorney general in November but lost to Democratic incumbent Chris Koster. He also narrowly lost a 2010 congressional race to Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.
Martin was the chairman for Missouri Republican's coordinated campaign efforts during the most recent election and previously served as chief of staff to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that Martin told the Republican State Committee on Saturday that "America is under assault because of the left-liberal vision of what they are trying to do to us."
"Today's competition was the sign of a vibrant and mature Party. Our success in electing Republicans across the state - in widening the tent - has created an influx of new ideas and energy, but it's clear that there is still work yet to be done," Martin said in a written statement.
Cole, also an attorney, is from Cassville in Barry County. During the 2009 Republican Party chairmanship election, he was picked without any dissenting votes. Cole said Saturday that he has tried to make the state party his focus while serving as chairman
"I have always striven to do what is best for this party as a whole, not for any particular candidate or any one faction," he said.
Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield also sought the chairmanship Saturday. She decided not to run for re-election to the state Senate this year after redistricting abolished her seat and placed her into the same district as a fellow GOP senator who will be up for election in 2014.
During Cole's tenure as chairman, Missouri Republicans seized large majorities in the state Legislature and claimed veto-proof supermajorities during the last election. However, Republicans have been less successful in races for statewide offices.
Democrats now control the offices of governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general, while Republicans serve as lieutenant governor and auditor. Republican Mitt Romney also won Missouri in the presidential race.
Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican who was elected in 2010, released a statement Saturday congratulating Martin.
"We have rebuilding to do in upcoming years, and I look forward to working with Ed and the rest of the state committee leadership team to strengthen the Republican Party and communicate our vision across the state of Missouri," Schweich said.
Other members of the GOP leadership team also were elected Saturday. Trish Vincent was picked as vice-chairwoman, Pat Thomas was named secretary and Richard Peerson landed the treasurer post.