BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Republicans chose their first new chairman in more than a decade Saturday, selecting a New Orleans businessman who will lead the party as it readies for a heated effort aimed at unseating Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019.

Louis Gurvich's two-year term began immediately once the party's governing body elected him over three other candidates.

He takes over from Roger Villere, who decided against seeking another term after serving as chairman for 14 years, the longest tenure in the state party's history.

Owner of a private security business, Gurvich told his fellow Republicans on the GOP State Central Committee that the theme of his chairmanship is: "Saddle the horses. We are on the march." He labeled the party "under attack" from Democrats and said he wants to ensure the GOP is Louisiana's dominant party.

"We plan to expand the party, expand our role and elect more Republicans up and down the state at every level," the new chairman said.

About 900,000 of Louisiana's nearly 3 million voters are registered Republicans, according to elections data. While the party holds a majority of the state's congressional, statewide and legislative seats, it has struggled to meet voter registration goals sought by GOP leaders. Candidates for the chairman's job talked of strengthening that base.

As the party gears up for the 2018 congressional elections and the 2019 statewide races including the high-profile competition for governor, several Republicans talked of the need for a greater focus on fundraising. Scott Wilfong, a Baton Rouge political consultant who unsuccessfully ran for the chairman's job, said the party is nearly $100,000 in debt and has a shrinking donor base.

Republicans elected their leader by paper ballot. Party officials said Gurvich received 97 votes out of 177 cast. Wilfong came in second with 49. State Rep. Julie Emerson of Carencro was third with 25 votes, followed by Charlie Buckels of Lafayette, the party's finance chairman, with six.

Kay Katz, a former state lawmaker who nominated Gurvich, described him as hardworking, calm and "fervent to Republican ideals."

Villere, a Jefferson Parish resident who owns a florist business, had been chairman of the party since 2004, when he won the position by 21 votes. He was state GOP leader as Republicans took control of the Louisiana Legislature and captured all but one of Louisiana's nine statewide elected positions, including both U.S. Senate seats. Republicans held one statewide elected job when Villere became chairman.

"We changed the entire direction of this state. We have a lot to celebrate," said Rhett Davis, a longtime party operative.

But Villere also led the party during the loss of the Louisiana Governor's Mansion in 2015, when Edwards, a state representative once considered a long-shot contender, defeated then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who had been expected to win the job.

Gurvich said one of his main goals as state Republican Party chairman will be to reclaim that seat for the GOP. No major Republican contender has officially announced, though several have said they are considering the race. Among the possible Republican candidates are U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Attorney General Jeff Landry.

The new chairman also said Republicans should oppose taxes in the special legislative session to help fill a $994 million state budget gap caused by expiring taxes and push to call a state constitutional convention.


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