Harnett, a self-described constitutional conservative from Cabarrus County, ran on a generic platform of raising money for candidates, bettering relationships with elected Republicans, and other efforts to build the Republican brand. But behind the generic party language was a fierce debate that pitted Tea Party and grassroots types against well-known Republican rainmakers.
A.J. Daoud, a third candidate, withdrew his name from consideration before the voting began. Some at the convention speculated that Collins would have won had Daoud remained in the race.
Outgoing chairman Claude Pope, who endorsed Collins, tried to remain upbeat about the outcome.
“It was a close race, but I pledge my support to him and told him I’ll do whatever I can to help him,” said Pope, who had predicted a 10-point Collins victory Thursday.
Pope said he didn’t see the defeat as a rebuke to the establishment, but rather that Harnett had run a better race.
“Hasan energized the delegation. He gave a great pitch and now he’s the man,” Pope said.
Harnett served as the manager of Vince Coakley’s unsuccessful 12th District congressional campaign, and has also worked as minority outreach director for the state party.
The vote, which seemed to be going heavily in Harnett’s favor, was halted so that Collins could withdraw and Harnett be elected by acclimation. Such a maneuver is common at political conventions, where leaders often try to play down intraparty controversy.
There was no mistaking what happened, though, and others were more candid about the outcome.
“There is a lot of shock and surprise right now,” said Lee Teague, a delegate from Wake. “It’s very surprising that anyone with the endorsements from the people on the ballot next year could lose. But now’s the time to all work together and let bygones be bygones.”