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Arizona GOP in turmoil as Kari Lake leak forces chairman to resign

By Bob Christie
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Failed Republican Arizona governor’s candidate and current Senate candidate Kari Lake now appears firmly in charge of the state party after orchestrating the ouster of the party chairman.
Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer who oversaw operations or finances for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 races, resigned Wednesday. The abrupt decision came just days after Lake released a recording of the two from ten months ago where DeWit tried to persuade her to sit out the 2024 election and appeared to offer her high paying jobs to do so.
DeWit said in a statement he acted because Lake's team had given him an ultimatum -- "resign today or face the release of a new, more damaging recording.''
He said he chose to step aside, saying he did not know what the recording might say, and that because he had had numerous "open conversations as friends, I have decided not to take the risk.''
He did not return messages seeking additional comment.
The secret recording first obtained by the London Daily Mail, has DeWit telling her there are "powerful people'' who don't want her to run for the Senate and asked that she consider taking a private job -- and a two-year "pause'' from politics.
Earlier Wednesday, in an interview with KTAR radio, Lake had called on DeWit to resign and noted their relationship had deteriorated since the initial recorded conversation.
"You don’t put somebody in a position with a conversation like that,” she said.
"That’s disrespectful, it’s unethical, and so I've had a very terse relationship with him,'' Lake continued. "I thought he should have resigned a long time ago.''
But DeWit's lengthy resignation statement and explanation raised ethical issues for Lake as well.
He said secretly recording a political strategy discussion crosses ethical lines and will make it hard for Lake to have frank discussions with people like Trump and sitting U.S. senators.
As a candidate for Senate, she's already on thin ice with national party leaders because she failed to moderate her 2022 governor's campaign and lost the swing state. And DeWit said that at the time of the March 2023 conversation, Lake actually was on payroll of a private firm he was running, and as an employee that was a breach of duty.
"I believe she orchestrated this entire situation to have control over the state party, and it is obvious from the recording that she crafted her performance responses with the knowledge that she was recording it, intending to use this recording later to portray herself as a hero in her own story,'' DeWit wrote in his resignation letter. "I question how effective a United States Senator can be when they cannot be trusted to engage in private and confidential conversations.''
The tumultuous end of DeWit's year-long tenure as Arizona Republican Party chairman means this weekend's mandatory state party meeting will see a new leader elected. A replacement for DeWit will likely be more in Lake’s mold: a fire-storming MAGA-GOP acolyte who remains distanced from Arizona’s increasingly middle-of-the-road electorate.
DeWit took over a party fractured by 2022 losses of not just the governor's seat but two other top state offices: secretary of state and attorney general. The party also lost a crucial race for U.S. Senate as voters selected Mark Kelly over venture capitalist Blake Masters.
Former Chair Kelli Ward had stepped down. And with the state party nearly broke, DeWit boosted fundraising needed to support candidates.
As Trump's chief operating officer, he also had the connections to draw in more money.
His departure also comes as Democrats are aiming to wrest control of the Legislature from Republicans in this years election as well.
Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican political consultant, said he believes DeWit was offering a frank assessment of Lake’s chances of winning this year during their talk.
"I think what Jeff was trying to do (was) trying to explain to her that in the opinion of many, she was not a viable general election candidate,'' Coughlin said. The meeting came as Lake had been shopping her Senate candidacy to national Republicans and failed to convince them she could moderate her campaign to win Arizona.
"In my opinion, she's clearly not learned anything from all of those conversations,” Couglin said.
"She's still practicing the addition by subtraction equation,'' he said, offending party members who do not agree with her rather than reaching out to build a base of support. And that Coughlin said "is what led to her original defeat and will lead to her defeat in the ‘24 cycle.''
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