— BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Republican Party re-elected Bill Armistead as chairman Saturday despite a campaign by the governor and other top Republicans to oust him.
Armistead beat Montevallo attorney Matt Fridy 221-159 in voting by the State Republican Executive Committee.
Fridy, a 37-year-old attorney from Montevallo, drew support from Gov. Robert Bentley, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey and House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Armistead, a 68-year-old former state senator from Columbiana, had the backing of Chief Justice Roy Moore and many low-profile grassroots workers within the party.
The outcome was an embarrassment for some of Alabama's top Republicans, said William Stewart, retired chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama. "It shows Roy Moore is more powerful than the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker," he said.
Bentley left the GOP meeting before the vote. A spokesman said he had no comment about the outcome, but he sent Armistead a note saying he would continue to work with him as they approach the 2014 elections, when the governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature will be on the ballot.
Armistead said he and Bentley will meet next week, and uniting the party will be his priority. "If we don't unite, it will be the Democrats' dream and our nightmare," he said.
Republicans hold every Alabama office elected statewide, six of seven seats in the U.S. House, and more than 60 percent of the Legislature.
Moore said he supported Armistead because he treated him fairly when he challenged and beat Bentley's hand-picked chief justice, Chuck Malone, in the Republican primary last year. He said previous party leaders had not treated him fairly in prior elections. "I've had to fight the people trying to seize power in this election," he said.
Fridy and his supporters said the party's fundraising had dropped during Armistead's two-year term because he had divided the party by putting the focus on himself, rather than the party's elected officials.
"If you can't increase your fundraising when Barrack Obama is at the top of the ticket, there is a problem and it needs to be fixed," Fridy told the executive committee.
Armistead told the committee that he led the party to major successes in the November election, including defeating the last Democrat in a statewide office and winning courthouse offices in traditionally Democratic counties.
He said the effort to defeat him stemmed from an audit he had performed of Hubbard's tenure as party chairman during the 2010 election. That audit showed that $83,524 in party funds went to an Auburn printing company, where Hubbard is one of the owners. "That's why you are seeing all this gathering of people saying we've got to break this chairman down," Armistead said.
After the vote, Hubbard issued a statement congratulating Armistead and saying the party "will put this chairman's race behind us because, as our first Republican president said, 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'"
Former state appeals court judge Mark Montiel, who voted for Armistead, said elected officials were trying to grab control of the party to try to discourage any opposition in the Republican primary in 2014. He said the outcome showed party members who have worked for years to elect candidates are independent from current officeholders.
Stewart said the battle demonstrated how the Republican Party has become the dominant party in Alabama, and it is reminiscent of the fights the Democratic Party had when it controlled state politics. Even one of Alabama's most powerful governors, George C. Wallace, couldn't oust Robert Vance Sr. after he became Democratic Party chairman in 1966, Stewart said.