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With race to lead GOP set to be decided Friday, challenger Dhillon snags major endorsement

Incumbent Ronna McDaniel maintains lead in RNC chair contest despite surprise election eve endorsement of Republican campaign attorney Harmeet Dhillon by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Published: January 26, 2023 8:03pm

Updated: January 26, 2023 11:13pm

With the election for Republican National Committee chair set to take place on Friday between incumbent Ronna McDaniel, election lawyer Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed his endorsement in the race ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

DeSantis announced his support for Dhillon as RNC chair in an interview aired Thursday on "The Charlie Kirk Show" on RAV.

"I think we need a change," DeSantis told host Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point USA. "I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC.

"I like what Harmeet Dhillon has said about getting the RNC out of D.C. Why would you want to have your headquarters in the most Democrat city in America? It's more Democrat than San Francisco is."

The Florida governor is widely viewed as a possible rival to Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, although he has not publicly signaled interest in challenging the former president, who maintains a commanding lead in polls over DeSantis, his nearest potential competitor.

Unlike DeSantis, Trump has opted to not endorse a candidate for RNC chair, as McDaniel was his pick for the position after he won the presidency in 2016, and Dhillon was his 2020 campaign legal adviser. The RNC chairwoman is seeking her fourth term as head of the GOP.

McDaniel and Dhillon have emerged as the frontrunners in the RNC race. Lindell, also a Trump ally, has not received much public support from RNC members, however he told ABC News on Thursday that he and Dhillon have enough combined support to at least keep McDaniel from getting a simple majority.

Another possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, indicated in November that a leadership change was needed in the RNC.

In the election for the next head of the GOP, 168 national committee members will vote via secret ballot in Dana Point, Calif., on Friday. Washington, D.C., and all states and U.S. territories each have three national committee members — one chair, one national committeeman and one national committeewoman.

A candidate needs 85 votes to win the chairmanship. In December, McDaniel circulated a letter with signatures from 107 RNC members endorsing her for reelection. However, one of those committee members, Hawaii Republican National Committeewoman Laura Nakanelua, has since changed her endorsement to Dhillon.

Dhillon has received 29 endorsements from RNC committee members and state chairs, according to a partial list on her campaign website.

It is possible for an RNC chair election to go to multiple ballots before a winner is declared. In 2011, it took seven ballots for Reince Priebus to win the election against incumbent Michael Steele.

McDaniel has faced calls to step down after losing the House of Representatives in 2018, both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2020, and far underperforming expectations in 2022 by winning only a slim majority in the House while failing to regain the Senate.

Some RNC members have expressed concern over the committee's spending under McDaniel.

An internal report based on FEC data that has been circulated among current RNC members shows that the committee spent $505,909 on private jet flights, $459,103 on black car/executive transfer services, $36,567 on alcohol and $321,671 on floral arrangements during the 2021-2022 election cycle. The spending in these categories has raised eyebrows among RNC committee voting members, according to Louisiana RNC committeeman Roger Villere and Oregon RNC committeeman Solomon Yue.

"When I led the RNC Executive Committee to investigate [former RNC Chairman Michael] Steele's misuse of RNC money, I didn't see Steele spend $321,671 on floral arrangements and $75,739 on entertainment," Yue previously told Just the News. "The RNC Executive Committee didn't authorize Steele to spend RNC money on private jet flights, limousine and bodyguard services. Did the current RNC Executive Committee authorize McDaniel to spend money on private jet, black car, alcohol, floral arrangements and entertainment? If not, McDaniel's spending is worse than Michael Steele's spending."

However, McDaniel supporters and her spokesperson noted that she has raised significant funds for the RNC. The committee raised $325 million in the 2021-2022 election cycle, and the amount spent during that time "only adds up to 0.8% of the total amount the Chairwoman raised," according to McDaniel's campaign spokesperson.

Dhillon has said that new leadership is needed going into the 2024 presidential cycle, including reevaluating RNC vendor and consultant relationships, changing fundraising tactics, and decentralizing the party's headquarters.

McDaniel counters that Dhillon, the California RNC committee chairwoman, has no campaign experience.

Another issue that has been raised is McDaniel's salary, which has tripled since she began her tenure six years ago, now far exceeding the pay of any of her predecessors. She earned $122,582 during her first year as RNC chair and peaked at $410,640 in 2020, then received $358,431 for the first 11 months of 2022, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

In contrast, the previous RNC chairman, Priebus, received a starting salary of $152,874 in 2011 and peaked at $257,782 in 2016, per FEC reports. His immediate predecessor, Steele, earned $114,839 in 2009, then peaked at $136,959 in 2010, FEC reports show.

The state Republican parties of Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, and Texas have expressed no confidence in McDaniel and called for new leadership, while the state parties of Washington, Nebraska and Arkansas have endorsed Dhillon.

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