Arizona GOP elects new leader after scandal opens vacancy

Arizona Republicans elected a new party chair on Saturday, a move that tightened control of the state party hierarchy by far-right supporters of former President Donald J. Trump and came days after a scandal forced the last president to resign.

Gina Swoboda, who managed the election day integrity operations in Arizona for Mr. Trump in 2020 and ran non-profit group who falsely claimed to have found huge discrepancies in voting records in numerous states, was chosen to replace Jeff DeWitt, who resigned as chairman on Wednesday.

Mrs. Swoboda, whom Mr. Endorsed by Trump on Friday, she won the overwhelming majority of votes in the election of state party officials held at the party’s mandatory annual meeting in Phoenix. The vote was postponed due to a lengthy discussion proposal to ban use electronic tabulators – in which many election deniers in the party do not believe – to count the ballots.

Kari Lake, a far-right candidate for the US Senate and a close ally of Mr. Trump who played a central role in Mr. DeWitt’s downfall, took the stage Saturday to nominate Ms. Swoboda. But she was encountered noise and rejection from the crowd, an apparent rejection of her involvement in the scandal.

Mr. DeWit resigned after a leaked audio recording emerged on Tuesday in which he told Ms. Lake that “very powerful people” would give her money or a cushy job if she didn’t enter the Senate race. In the tape, Ms. Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022 and bought into Mr. Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, was heard telling Mr. DeWit: “It’s immoral — I couldn’t look in the mirror.”

Mr. DeWit claimed Wednesday that Ms. Lake had released a tape of the conversation, which he said took place at Ms. Lake’s home more than 10 months ago, and that it had been selectively edited. He added that he was resigning because Ms. Lake had threatened to release another damaging video if he did not resign.

In response, Garrett Ventry and Caroline Wren, senior advisers to Ms. Lake, said in a statement that no one from Ms. Lake’s campaign had threatened or blackmailed Mr. DeWitt.

Ms Lake has neither denied nor confirmed that she was behind the leaked tape, but strongly urged Mr DeWitt to leave the party post after it became public, calling him “corrupt and compromised”.

Ms. Swoboda joins a contingent of far-right Trump supporters who have steadily increased their control over party finances and politics, pushing aside less extreme Trump supporters in the Republican Party’s old guard.

Investigation The independent journalism site ProPublica concluded that the nonprofit she is executive director of, the Foundation for Voting, is closely tied to a super PAC heavily funded by billionaire Dick Uihlein, a big Trump supporter.

Republican strategists say the move leaves an already divided party organization in disarray just as the campaign season ramps up. State party organizations play a key role in recruiting candidates, setting party policy positions, raising money, and directing cash from national party organizations to state and local candidates.

Some big donors to Arizona Republicans have decided to spend their money elsewhere as the state party has drifted to the right and its favored statewide candidates — including Ms. Lake — have been uniformly defeated in 2022.

“Republicans are trying to elect Donald Trump, trying to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, and Republicans have a one-seat margin in both houses of the legislature,” said Barrett Marson, a public affairs executive and former Republican state government official. “If you have a party that doesn’t work, that’s not going to help us get to the ballot.”

Ms. Lake is considered a near-certain pick by Republican primary voters to challenge Democratic US House of Representatives Ruben Gallego for the Senate seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema, who spurned the Democratic Party in 2022 to become an independent. It is unclear whether Ms. Sinema will seek re-election in November, but she has yet to lay the groundwork for such a bid.

Be that as it may, Mr. DeWitt’s forced resignation — one strategist called it a “political assassination” — exposed the gaping depth of the party’s ideological divide.

Mr. Dewit, 52, was elected as the head of the party state a year ago, ending a turbulent period in which the party was led by an election denier. He has been seen as one of the few Republicans capable of bridging the gap between the state party’s hard-right majority and a minority that recognizes Mr. Trump’s dominance, but argues that asserting more extreme views is a losing proposition in elections.

Mr. DeWit has impeccable credentials in the Trump political world. As Arizona’s state treasurer, he was the first state elected official in the state to endorse Mr. Trump’s 2015 presidential bid and managed his Arizona campaign. He became the chief operating officer of Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election bid after serving as NASA’s chief financial officer.

“He was one of the untouchables in the Trump group,” said Mike Noble, a Phoenix-based pollster. market research specialist and a former Republican congressional aide.

Ms. Lake, 54, supported Mr. DeWitt’s election at the time. An ardent supporter of Mr. Trump, she jumped from her job as a television news anchor to become the Republican candidate for governor in 2022. She has consistently refused to acknowledge either Mr. Trump’s loss to Joseph R. Biden in 2020 or her own loss in 2022 to Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs.

Mr. DeWit said this week that Ms. Lake was employed by a technology company he owns — Ms. Lake said she worked “with” Mr. DeWit — and that the two had many private conversations as friends. During one of those conversations, Mr. DeWit relayed an offer from unidentified people “from the east” to reward her if she declined in the 2024 Senate race.

Kellen Browning contributed to the reporting.

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