SOLOMONS — A conservative activist running an insurgent candidacy against the Maryland Republican establishment seized the post of national committeewoman at the state GOP convention Saturday, beating longtime party stalwart Audrey E. Scott.
The victory by Nicolee Ambrose of Baltimore represents a generational changing of the guard for Maryland Republicans. Her win came after a bitterly fought internal struggle that played out in blogs and on Facebook.
The race pitted Scott, a 76-year-old pillar of Maryland Republican politics for decades, against a 37-year-old activist with experience in national presidential campaigns. Ambrose defeated Scott by a vote of 286-247.
The two fought for a position that has been held for the last decade by the retiring Joyce Lyons-Terhes, who like Scott had previously served as state party chair. The national committeewoman represents Maryland on the Republican National Committee. The post has traditionally been seen as a reward for long service rather than a prize to be fought over.
In another contested race, incumbent national committeeman Louis Pope of Howard County easily defeated challenger Scott Shaffer of Anne Arundel County.
In the committeewoman race, Scott pointed to a long record of accomplishment as mayor of Bowie, membership on the Prince George's County Council, planning secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and state Republican chairwoman.
Ambrose's campaign focused less on what she had done than what she intended to do. The former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation promised to be a "hands-on" committeewoman who would use her contacts at the national level to help build a competitive two-party system in Maryland.
"We need to play to win," Ambrose told delegates. "We must win."
In some ways, the contest shaped up as a showdown between Ehrlich loyalists and other Republicans — including some tea party activists — who are eager to move the party out of the shadow of the former governor, who led the GOP to defeat in the last two statewide elections.
The state party has struggled in recent years at the polls and in its fundraising – to the point that it had to give up its prestigiously placed headquarters in Annapolis for a cheaper office.
Donald Murphy, a former Republican state delegate who said the Solomons gathering was his 20th state GOP convention, said he had never before seen such a bitterly contested battle for a national committee position. He said that in some cases, Republicans were lining up behind Ambrose as "payback" for actions Scott took as party chair, including her decision to openly favor Ehrlich in 2010 before the Republican primary.
Scott was clearly bruised by the criticism, including charges that she played "Chicago-style" politics. "This has been a nasty campaign – one of the worst I've ever experienced," she said.
Scott attracted support from a who's who of the GOP establishment in Maryland, including former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Ambrose lined up some big endorsements of her own, including that of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the longtime Western Maryland congressman who is fighting to hold a 6th District seat that has been redrawn to favor his Democratic challenger.
Murphy, who said he was neutral in the race, said Ambrose's election represents a change in the party. "People do want to move on. They want to get past Ehrlich and go to the next chapter," he said.