BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Republicans on Saturday retained their party's leader, spurning an effort from a state lawmaker to unseat him amid criticism of GOP management and handling of the last governor's race.

The party's governing body, the Republican State Central Committee, kept New Orleans businessman Louis Gurvich in the job he has held since 2018. Gurvich defeated Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris in what party officials said was a 134-61 vote, according to The Advocate.

The vote came in an hourslong meeting Saturday where many in the 200-plus crowd didn’t wear masks to protect against the coronavirus. While party officials said face coverings were required as ordered under a statewide mask mandate, the requirement wasn't visibly enforced.

Gurvich, owner of a private security business, has received criticism for management of the party's finances and for the loss of the 2019 governor's race. Democrat John Bel Edwards was reelected to a second term.

Harris entered the Republican Party leadership competition only a week before Saturday's vote — after Eddie Rispone, the businessman who lost the governor’s race in 2019 to Edwards, dropped his challenge to Gurvich.

More than 1 million of Louisiana's 3.1 million voters are registered Republicans. The party holds a majority of seats in the Louisiana Legislature, all statewide elected positions except the governorship and all filled positions in the congressional delegation.

Two U.S. House seats are vacant. The GOP's central committee Saturday picked its favored Republican candidates for the March 20 ballot.

The party backed Claston Bernard, a decathlete who competed in the Olympics, in the New Orleans-based 2nd District race and Julia Letlow for the 5th District representing northeast and central Louisiana. Letlow, a university administrator, is the widow of Luke Letlow, who defeated Harris for the seat in December but died of COVID-19 complications before he could be sworn into office.