BEDFORD — Jennifer Horn of Nashua was elected Saturday to lead a state Republican Party that its leaders say needs to reunify.
"Thank you to all of you," Horn said after her selection was announced. "Your passion, your energy, your voice is what defines our party and makes us strong."
After an early round of voting made Horn the victor by about 30 votes over Bristol's Andrew Hemingway, he called for committee members to make Horn's selection unanimous by casting one vote.
"I was running a campaign to bring the voice of the grass roots to the table, and at the end of the day, it was a very close race, and that's what the people chose," he said.
Former presidential candidate Andy Martin also ran for the post, but failed to receive a nomination.
In another contested race, Fran Wendelboe of New Hampton defeated Jeff Newman of Concord for assistant secretary. J.P. Marzullo of Deering was elected vice chairman. Marzullo ran unopposed to replace outgoing Vice Chairman Cliff Hurst.
Saturday's NHGOP annual meeting also served as a platform for state Republican leaders to tell the 428 committee members who attended that the party must avoid becoming fractured or seeing a third party break away.
Executive Councilor Chris Sununu said he had a conversation in the parking lot of Bedford High School, where the convention was held, in which he was told that there was an opportunity "to break away into a third party."
"You're nuts, to that gentleman who said that to me in the parking lot," Sununu said. "A third party idea in the Republican Party is the greatest thing the Democrats could hope for right now. It is absolutely what they want us to do. They are dying for this room to become fractured."
Sununu said the party should instead unify, the way it did in 2010, when Republicans swept elections for the House, Senate, Executive Council and the congressional seats up for election that year.
"We have to find that common ground," he said.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., told the group that the party has to recognize its losses from 2012, including races for governor, Executive Council and the House, and the near loss in the state Senate in order to focus on winning elections in the future.
"When Republicans lose, New Hampshire loses," she said. "When Republicans lose, our country loses.
"There is too much at stake for us to fail." she said.
Ayotte also called for party unity.
"We cannot afford to be divided," she said. "Today is an opportunity for us to come together, to rededicate ourselves to the principles that are so important in the Republican Party.
"When we stop fighting ourselves ,and we start fighting the real problem, we win," she said.
Sununu said Republicans have to find ways to win to keep Democratic policies under control.
"They have good intentions. Those knuckleheads actually have good intentions," he said of Democrats. "But those intentions lead to absolutely horrible policy, and they continually erode and decay that foundation, those fundamental principles, that built this state up."
State Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said Republicans need to help each other to fight the "tax-and-fee agenda" of Gov. Maggie Hassan and other Democrats.
"We need to recognize who our enemy is," Sanborn said. "Because Maggie Hassan is not our friend. Maggie Hassan is not the friend of the taxpayer. She's not the friend of the small-business community. She's not the friend of people who have a belief in family values, personal freedom and personal responsibility."
Ayotte also praised outgoing Chairman Wayne MacDonald, calling him "a quiet hero of the party." She presented MacDonald with the state GOP's Norris Cotton Award. State Sen. Jeannie Forrester, R-Meredith, was presented with the Gov. Meldrim Thomson "Putting Principle Above Politics" Award.
The delegates also considered nine amendments to the party's bylaws. Just one, to forbid the state party to impose a fee or tax on members, passed, according to state party spokesman Meg Stone. Those that failed included proposals to provide the chairman a salary, creating a "chairman emeritus" position and not allowing government employees to be a state committee member.