Arizona's political parties just picked new leaders. What it says about where they're heading
Arizona Republicans on Saturday selected former state treasurer and Donald Trump aide Jeff DeWit to be the party’s next chairman, turning to a familiar face with relationships across the fractured party after its worst election in decades.
DeWit replaces firebrand Trump ally Kelli Ward, who helped the former president in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and was a vocal proponent of his false claim that the election results were fraudulent. She broke with precedent in last year’s primary, openly promoting a slate of election deniers who went on to lose the general election in November.
“I'm going to work for you and we’re going to unify,” DeWit said after winning. “And we’re going to get back to beating Democrats and winning elections.”
DeWit was supported by Kari Lake, who lost the race for governor but became a rock star on the right; Mark Finchem, the defeated candidate for secretary of state; and retired Gen. Michael Flynn. Lake said shortly before the vote that Trump made a last-minute endorsement of DeWit as well, though the former president didn't say anything on his social media accounts.
He won with 70% of the votes over several other nominees, including Steve Daniels, who was the choice of some of the party's most ardent advocates of blowing up the election system. After helping to lead protests against face masks and critical race theory, Daniels founded the Arizona Patriot Party and wants all voting to take place in person on one day, with ballots counted by hand.
During Ward’s four-year tenure, the GOP lost three Senate races and the state’s three top offices — governor, secretary of state and attorney general. In recent weeks she’s faced criticism over the party’s spending, including an expensive election night bash in November that Republicans hoped would be a victory celebration before GOP candidates fell short.
DeWit was elected state treasurer in 2014 and resigned in 2018, shortly before his term ended, when he was confirmed as chief financial officer of NASA under Trump. He led Trump's Arizona campaign in 2016 and was chief operating officer of Trump's 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, Arizona Democrats elected Yolanda Bejarano, a senior national official in the Communications Workers of America union, to be their party chair following the first contested election for Democratic chair in 12 years. Bejarano was backed by most of the state's elected Democrats, but newly elected Gov. Katie Hobbs supported Steve Gallardo, the only Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Outgoing Democratic Chair Raquel Teran declined to run for another term, saying she wants to focus on her role as the state Senate minority leader. She said Friday she's looking at running for the safely Democratic U.S. House seat being vacated by Ruben Gallego, who's running for the Senate.
The 2024 election includes several races with national implications. Arizona is likely to be a battleground in the presidential race, and independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat is also on the ballot. Sinema, a former Democrat who alienated much of the party, has not said whether she'll seek a second term, setting up the possibility of a rare three-way contest.
Ray Stern covers state politics for the Arizona Republic and was at the Arizona GOP gathering this weekend. He joined The Show to talk about what's ahead for the two parties.