Fla. Republicans elect Bitner new chair

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- The Republican Party of Florida elected former state Rep. Dave Bitner as its new chairman Saturday and he immediately looked toward defeating Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

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.

In brief remarks after the vote, Bitner choked up as he thanked the crowd. He also pumped up activists for the next election.

“We are taking our country back. There is unity here,” Bitner said. “Bill Nelson is out.”

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.”