It was a surprising night for the RI GOP who met Thursday to choose a new leader.
After almost two hours of counting votes, the current GOP Chairman Mark Zaccaria announced that the vote has been declared invalid in the race for chairman between Mark Smiley and Daniel Harrop.
"It wouldn't be a GOP convention if there wasn't drama," said Zaccaria has he made the announcement. In a final tally Smiley had received 94 votes and Harrop received 93, however only 186 people were signed in to vote.
The vote will now be continued to a second meeting which will be held after a ten day grace period has lapsed. Until that time the sitting leaders of the GOP, including Zaccaria will remain in place.
The Shiners club in Cranston was packed as over 200 people gathered to find out the future of the Rhode Island Republican Party. A new party platform and new party officers, including the chairman position, were up for a vote and delegates felt a lot was at stake.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was outspoken in his support for Harrop. He said Harrop has a fundraising base and if elected already had $30,000 in donations committed to the party. Former candidate for Secretary of State Catherine Taylor also threw her support behind Harrop.
Meanwhile, several former Republican candidates who lost their election bids threw their support behind Smiley. Former Congressional Candidate Brendan Doherty, former gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, and former senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley, all advocated for Smiley. In a nomination speech, Hinckley noted how hard Smiley had stumped for candidates in the last election and has dedicated himself to improving the party.
Smiley says he should be chair because he has the experience and knowledge necessary to lead the party. He showed his commitment to the RIGOP by announcing he has dropped down to part-time employment in his company and will have a full-time focus on the GOP. Smiley serves as the Warren Republican town committee chairman and the chairman of the RI GOP's chairman's caucus. Smiley says he wants to focus on recruiting and grooming candidates who run for local office.
Harrop said he represents the "big tent party" and if elected hopes to make "everyone feel welcome in the RI GOP." He said he thinks the party needs some serious changes locally and nationally. He was surrounded by young Republicans and college Republicans who hoped to see him take the reins of the party and steer it in a new direction.
Harrop is a doctor in Providence and has run unsuccessfully for Mayor of Providence and Representative in the General Assembly. He was also an elected presidential delegate for Ron Paul in 2012. He is a self-described libertarian.
Although the chairman's vote was deemed invalid, the GOP did come to several other decisions. The party voted down proposed changes to the party platform and elected several new leaders including a new treasurer Michael Grossi, a new second vice chair Daniel Hall, and a new first vice chair Giovanni Calise. The meeting was continued and not adjourned so the new officers will not take their seats until after the meeting is officially adjourned and a new chairman is selected.
Current chairman Mark Zaccaria served for one term has but decided not to run for the position again after the November elections.
Dee DeQuattro is the assignment desk manager and digital news coordinator for ABC6. She studied politics and communications and holds a master's degree from Providence College. Follow her on twitter @deedequattro and log on to ABC6 .com for her latest in depth coverage of politics and news.