MIAMI (CBS4) - The Republican Party of Florida elected former state Rep. David Bitner as its new chairman Saturday.
Bitner immediately looked toward defeating Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
"I just want to say we have a great team. We are taking our country back. There is unity here. Bill Nelson is out."
He also went on to thank Gov. Scott and other Republican leaders.
Bitner takes over a party that had one of its best election years ever, following tumultuous times inside the party itself. He beat state GOP vice chair Debbie Cox-Roush in a runoff election after narrowly failing to get more than 50 percent of the initial vote in the five-way race for chairman.
Bitner, 61, served in the state House from 1992 to 2000, representing Port Charlotte. He is a former owner of the Charlotte Sun-Herald and now lives in Monticello near Tallahassee.
Out-going RPOF Chairman John Thrasher congratulate Bitner.
"I'm proud to congratulate Dave Bitner on his election as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida," Thrasher said. "The Party has now come together and under Chairman Bitner's leadership, we will be unified and focused on the major tasks ahead. With reforms in place, strong elected Republicans leading Florida forward, and marquee events and races ahead in Florida, Chairman Bitner will serve the Party well at a critical time."
In brief remarks after the vote, Bitner choked up as he thanked the crowd. He also pumped up activists for the next election.
That was a sentiment repeated by several speakers at the state GOP meeting, where Gov. Rick Scott addressed the group for the first time since taking office this month.
"Hold us accountable, stay really active, write the letters and let everybody know you support our causes," Scott told the group. "I'm going to do everything I can to make you proud, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure this is the best Republican Party in all 50 states."
Less than a year ago the party was going through internal turmoil as then Chairman Jim Greer was getting ready to resign under pressure amid allegations he misused party money. Greer was later indicted on felony grand theft, money laundering and fraud charges.
Bitner will replace Sen. John Thrasher, who replaced Greer. Thrasher said when he was elected in February that he would only serve long enough to stabilize the party through the November election, which turned out to be enormously successful for Republicans.
In addition to Scott's victory, Republican Marco Rubio was elected senator and the GOP won all three Cabinet seats and made gains in the state Legislature and Congress.
Several people are considering a run for Senate against Nelson, who has served since 2000. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has already taken steps to run, but hasn't officially announced his plans. That, however, didn't stop Thrasher from endorsing him at the meeting.
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