Roger Grimes has won a close race to lead the Newfoundland Liberal party, and become the province's premier.

Grimes took the leadership with 638 ballots, while rival John Efford, a former fisheries minister, garnered 624 votes in the second ballot.

Mines and Energy Minister Paul Dicks got only 111 votes in the first round and was eliminated from the leadership race.

Minutes after those results, Dicks crossed the floor to support Efford, but he failed to bring enough support with him.

"The key for all of us is this: as of now, there are no more campaign teams inside the Liberal Party. There are no more camps. There is no more leadership race," Grimes told a noisy crowd.

"There's just one, great, strong united Liberal Party that can go forward with pride from today."

About 1,200 delegates made it to the Glacier hockey arena in Mount Pearl as a blizzard shut down businesses and roads in the St. John's area.

The candidates, who are all veterans of provincial politics, waged a three-month campaign that at times got nasty and personal.

The race between the two front-runners was seen as a fight between the party establishment which supported Grimes, and grassroots Liberals, who backed Efford.

When Grimes' victory was announced, many of Efford's supporters booed. But Efford himself urged delegates to unite behind their new leader for the sake of the party.

Former premier Brian Tobin, who left the job last October to return to federal politics, was at the convention to welcome his successor.

Grimes is a former math teacher and union leader who played for 10 years in Newfoundland's minor hockey leagues.

But hanging like a cloud over the race was the party's stunning loss last Tuesday, when two ridings considered safe Liberal seats including Tobin's went to the Conservatives in byelections.