Arizona G.O.P. Picks New Leader After Scandal Creates a Vacancy

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

Gina Swoboda, who directed election-day integrity operations in Arizona for Mr. Trump in 2020 and runs a nonprofit group that has falsely claimed to have found huge discrepancies in voting records in a number of states, was picked to replace Jeff DeWit, who stepped down as chairman on Wednesday.

Ms. Swoboda, whom Mr. Trump endorsed on Friday, won an overwhelming majority of votes in an election of state party officials held at the party’s required annual meeting in Phoenix. The vote was delayed by a lengthy debate over a motion to ban the use of electronic tabulators — mistrusted by many election deniers in the party — to count the ballots.

Kari Lake, a far-right candidate for U.S. Senate and close ally of Mr. Trump who had a central role in Mr. DeWit’s fall, took to the stage on Saturday to nominate Ms. Swoboda. But she was met with a din of boos and heckling from the crowd, an apparent rebuff to her involvement in the scandal.

Mr. DeWit resigned after a leaked voice recording surfaced on Tuesday in which he told Ms. Lake that “very powerful people” would give her money or a comfortable job if she would sit out the Senate contest. In the recording, Ms. Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022 and embraced Mr. Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, was heard telling Mr. DeWit, “That’s immoral — I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

Mr. DeWit claimed on Wednesday that Ms. Lake had released the recording of the conversation, which he said occurred at Ms. Lake’s house 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 a second damaging recording 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. DeWit.

Ms. Lake has neither denied nor confirmed that she was behind the leaked recording, but she forcefully called for Mr. DeWit to quit 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 of the party’s finances and policies, forcing aside less extreme Trump backers in the Republican Party’s old guard.

An investigation by the independent journalism website ProPublica concluded that the nonprofit where she is executive director, the Voter Reference Foundation, is closely linked to a super PAC largely financed by the billionaire Dick Uihlein, a major Trump supporter.

Republican strategists said the move leaves an already divided party organization in disarray just as the campaign season is ramping up. State party organizations play key roles in recruiting candidates, setting out party policy positions, raising money and funneling cash from national party organizations to state and local candidates.

Some major Republican donors in Arizona have chosen to spend their money elsewhere as the state party moved sharply to the right, and its favored statewide candidates — including Ms. Lake — were uniformly defeated in 2022.

“Republicans are trying to get Donald Trump elected, trying to win a U.S. Senate seat, and Republicans hold one-seat margins in both houses of the Legislature,” said Barrett Marson, a public-relations executive and former Republican state government official. “If you have a nonfunctioning party, it’s not going to help us up and down the ballot.”

Ms. Lake is seen as the all-but-certain choice of Republican primary voters to challenge a Democratic member of the U.S. House, Ruben Gallego, for a Senate seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema, who bolted 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.

As much as anything, the forced resignation of Mr. DeWit — one strategist called it a “political assassination” — revealed the depths of the party’s yawning ideological divide.

Mr. Dewit, 52, was chosen to head the state party a year ago, ending a tumultuous period in which the party was led by an election denier. He was seen as one of the few Republicans capable of bridging the gap between the state party organization’s hard-right majority and a minority that acknowledges Mr. Trump’s dominance but argues that highlighting more extreme positions is a losing proposition in elections.

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

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

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

Mr. DeWit said this week that Ms. Lake was an employee of a technology company he owns — Ms. Lake said she worked “with” Mr. DeWit — and that the two had many private conversations as friends. It was during one of those conversations that Mr. DeWit relayed the offer from unidentified people “back East” to reward her if she sat out the 2024 race for a Senate seat.

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.



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