Republican candidate Kari Lake waves to supporters.
Kari Lake waves to supporters during a rally on Oct. 10, 2023, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin/AP

The New Arizona GOP Chair’s Tricky Task: Keep a Messy Party United

Gina Swoboda is trying to accomplish something her most recent predecessors couldn’t pull off.

The new chair of the Republican Party in Arizona, a state central to every political fight for power in 2024, until a week ago was on nobody’s public shortlist for the job. So what happened? Simply put, the competition wasn’t fierce.

“Nobody wants the job, except for wack-a-doos” who want to push the party even further right, a prominent Arizona Republican told NOTUS.

Gina Swoboda, who had been the party’s third vice chair, was elected the new leader on Saturday of a party embroiled in chaos. Rumors started swirling weeks ago that Jeff DeWit, the then-chair, would be replaced at a meeting initially meant to elect lower-level officers. His fate was sealed when audio of him appearing to “bribe” Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake to leave the race, recorded by Lake, was published by the Daily Mail. DeWit resigned last week, saying in a letter that he was concerned more audio would be released if he did not.

The state party chair is a thankless job primarily concerned with fundraising. DeWit ran last year after no one else viable stepped up, following years of financial trouble under the previous chair, Kelli Ward, and complaints by non-MAGA conservatives that she was not neutral during primaries.

Swoboda won with nearly 70% of the vote after securing key endorsements, including from former President Donald Trump and Lake. She secured close to 1,000 more votes than Jim O’Connor, a chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission who had been angling for the job.

“Gina Swoboda is the best person to be at the helm of the Arizona Republican Party,” Lake told NOTUS in a written statement. “Her expertise in election integrity efforts, and her relationships across the GOP, both in Arizona and nationally, will provide her with the tools needed to push our party, our campaign, and President Trump to victory in November.”

Swoboda is indeed respected both by MAGA and Trump-disinclined Republicans alike.

“Gina has been faithfully serving in the Republican Party for many years,” Lacy Cooper — a former Republican candidate for state attorney general, and the only candidate in the 2022 race who would not say the 2020 presidential election was stolen — told NOTUS. “She’s thoughtful, she’s generous with her time, and she’s a sweetheart. And when voters questioned the outcome of the 2020 election, Gina took action to find out what really happened instead of chasing ghosts.”

Swoboda is the executive director of the Voter Reference Foundation, which is under the umbrella of Restoration Action Inc. The organization, whose asserted aim is “transparent, accurate and fair elections,” provides a database to look up voter information in some states. It has been criticized by some for using inaccurate means to find incongruities in voter rolls.

Swoboda has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations in the secretary of state’s office, including current Gov. Katie Hobbs. She also worked for both Lake in her 2022 gubernatorial bid and for Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.

While Swoboda has support from two-thirds of her party, she does face some detractors, namely far-right Patriot Party types. Some questioned her eligibility to run as chair, others associated her with “RINOs,” demanding an ideologically pure, right-wing party leader.

“It’s clearly a MAGA problem at large,” said Chuck Coughlin, CEO and president of HighGround Inc., a traditionally Republican public affairs consulting firm in Phoenix. “Either you agree, or you’re not one of us.”

Getting this minority on board with her leadership, or at least not pushing for her ouster, will be a major test.

“I think in the minds of the group that opposed her candidacy, she might” face a challenge with ideological purity tests, said Republican consultant Chris Baker. ”But I think, amongst Republicans who are, first and foremost, concerned about beating Democrats in ’24, I don’t think she’ll have any problem at all.”

Tara Kavaler is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.