Republicans boo Kari Lake as they choose new party leadership

kari lake

On stage during the Republican Party of Arizona state meeting (from left to right): State Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, Party Chair Gina Swoboda, and US Senate Candidate Kari Lake.

By Camaron Stevenson

January 30, 2024

The Republican Party of Arizona chose a new state leader on Saturday after its former chair resigned amid controversy stemming from a leaked recording of a private conversation.

In the recording, former chair Jeff DeWit can be heard offering a job to US Senate candidate Kari Lake and asking her to name a price that would keep her out of the 2024 election cycle.

The recording was released Jan. 23 and quickly promptly DeWit’s resignation, leading to speculation that Lake orchestrated the leak to push DeWit out and replace him with someone closer to her.

DeWit’s replacement is Gina Swoboda, an election denier endorsed by both Lake and former President Donald Trump. Her new leadership post puts her center stage ahead of November’s presidential election in the battleground state.

Swoboda is a former employee of the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and was the election day director of operations for Trump’s campaign in 2020. She has been working for the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate as a senior adviser on elections.

“Gina is a national leader in election law. She is a grassroots hero … is battle tested and a woman of great integrity,” Lake said in a statement. “Gina understands that the White House and Senate Majority —and frankly, the survival of our Republic — runs through State 48.”

Despite Lake’s seemingly successful efforts to replace party leadership, she was met with boos when she appeared onstage during Saturday’s meeting.

“We don’t agree on everything—” Lake told the crowd.

“Anything!” Someone responded, amid a mixture of boos and cheers. Another attendee, when Lake accused Arizona’s election process of corruption, shouted back, “you did it!”

Meetings such as these aren’t made up of everyday voters; those who spend their Saturdays attending administrative political events tend to be passionate, well-connected members of the party from all over the state. They’re the ones who donate, who volunteer for campaigns, who do voter outreach—and without their support, candidates usually don’t last long.

Their dissatisfaction with Lake owes to a number of situations, including her claim in 2022 that she “drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine”—a machine that many Republicans at Saturday’s meeting consider themselves part of.

More recently, the leaked conversation between Lake and DeWit has left many within her party disgruntled.

DeWit, who was elected party chair in 2023, was seen as a trusted and experienced operative who could bridge the bitter divide between Trump loyalists and old-guard Republicans in Arizona, many of whom were brought into the party by the late Sen. John McCain.

Before leading the state party, DeWit was chief operating officer for Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns and chief financial officer at NASA during the Trump presidency.

At the time of the recording last March, Lake was waging an unsuccessful court fight challenging her loss in the 2022 race for Arizona governor even as she geared up for her US Senate campaign. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington, bruised by a disappointing showing in the midterms, were talking openly about plans to recruit GOP Senate nominees who would be more viable in general elections.

Locally, Republicans in Arizona are desperately trying to build unity among party members so they can start winning elections again. In the past six years, they’ve lost two US Senate seats, the governor’s office, the state attorney general’s office, the secretary of state’s office, and are closer to losing control of the state legislature than they’ve been in decades.

Plus, they’re running low on cash: the state Republican Party only has about $150,000, compared to the Arizona Democratic Party’s $1 million war chest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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