Race For AZ GOP Chairman May Feature Unlikely Contenders

The Arizona Republican Party has sent out its official call for applicants for positions on its state executive committee, most notably the position of state party chairman. The current chairwoman, Kelli Ward, has sent conflicting signals or whether she will run again, indicating early on that she would not, then telling members of the state committee more recently that she had been asked to run again by Team Trump, and had not ruled it out.

There is one announced candidate already, Robert Lettieri, who is finishing his second term as treasurer for the state party. Lettieri originally ran as part of the Jim O’Conner slate in 2017 and prevailed while the slate was largely defeated.  His two terms have been fairly quiet – and he worked well with both Jonathan Lines and then Kelli Ward.  His detractors say he’s relatively unknown and has never demonstrated any ability to fundraise, but he has gained the support of conservatives who are unhappy with Ward and do not feel like she has done enough to support President Trump.

The other long-rumored candidate is Shiree Verdone, a long-time GOP fundraiser who most recently was helping raise money for the Trump campaign.  Party activists who have been around for a longer period of time have expressed some surprise that Verdone might run, or that she might gain support from conservative factions, given her long history as part of the McCain machine that dominated the AZGOP until conservatives took power about a dozen years ago.

Verdone, whose political history actually traces back to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, then a turn in the AZ SCAM scandal of the early 1990’s, spent quite a few years as a pro-McCain activist in the party, at the local legislative and county level.  She and Mike Hellon, the former National Committeeman for Arizona, were both co-campaign managers for John McCain when he was challenged by J.D. Hayworth in 2010.  As Hayworth closed the gap, they were both “promoted” to the AZ GOP’s Victory operation and replaced within the campaign (http://sonoranalliance.com/mccain-transitioning-staff/).  In more recent years Verdone has been remaking herself as a conservative, trying to help raise money for more conservative candidates including Trump 2020.  She was rewarded with an At-Large Delegate spot at the National Convention.

There may be other interested candidates and they have until January 6th to put their name forward, but the general consensus is that the race is Ward’s to lose if she actually has a Trump endorsement and wants the job.  Verdone would likely raise more money, but it seems doubtful that the party faithful will turn the AZ GOP back over to a longtime McCain loyalist given their very strong feelings about McCain, and there is likely a treasure trove of pro-McCain or anti-Hayworth quotes available to her opponents.  Which may tip the scales towards Lettieri after all, making this an unpredictable race with very real consequences for the AZ GOP.