You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Kelli Ward led a push to overturn Biden’s victory. Now her own win as Arizona GOP chair is being questioned.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/28/2021 Teo Armus
Kelli Ward wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, holds a news conference in Phoenix in November 2020. © Ross D. Franklin/AP Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, holds a news conference in Phoenix in November 2020.

Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward spent weeks relentlessly questioning the results of November’s presidential election. She emerged as a leading voice in the “Stop the Steal” movement to deny President Biden’s win, making false claims of mass fraud.

But after Ward was narrowly reelected Saturday to her position leading the beleaguered state party, she is facing questions about the integrity of her own victory.

Sergio Arellano, a Pima County small business owner who lost to Ward by 42 votes, requested a recount of all state party races on Monday, he told The Washington Post. More than two days later, he said, Arizona state party leaders — who report to Ward — have not yet scheduled the audit, which was first reported by the Arizona Republic.

“It shouldn’t be a big deal. If her core No. 1 issue is election integrity, then it should be a nonissue,” he said in an interview. “It should be transparent, expeditious, and let’s move on.”

Neither Ward nor Greg Safsten, the Arizona Republican Party’s executive director, immediately responded to messages from The Post early Thursday.

Arellano, who served on the advisory board for President Donald Trump’s Latino campaign arm, emphasized he does not expect a recount to change the results of his race against Ward. But after dozens of other Arizona Republicans reached out to him to point out potential issues in at least two other races, he said he had to ask for a recount.

Trump jumps into a divisive battle over the Republican Party — with a threat to start a ‘MAGA Party’

Ward, an osteopathic physician and former state senator, twice ran unsuccessful primary campaigns for U.S. Senate, challenging John McCain in 2016 and then losing in a three-way race to succeed former senator Jeff Flake two years later.

It was the latter race that elevated her national profile, as she faced attack ads from Senate Republican leadership, launched a bus tour with a far-right conspiracy theorist and seemingly accused a dying McCain of trying to distract from the tour’s kickoff. (Ward later denied this was the case, blaming the media.)

Fresh off her second primary loss, she managed to secure leadership of the state party in 2019, campaigning on her enthusiastic support for Trump. When he lost to Biden in November, she helped Trump mount a baseless campaign claiming the presidential election had been rigged.

She sent out fundraising mailers describing a “stolen” election and offered up unsubstantiated claims of hidden precinct data. At her direction, the Arizona GOP sued to overturn the state’s election results, in a case that was later dismissed by the state Supreme Court for a lack of evidence.

As a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, seeking to keep Congress from certifying Biden’s win, Ward kept going. “Send the elector choice back to the legislatures,” she wrote on Twitter during the siege. She also claimed at a rally that the rioters were fakes trying to undermine Trump.

At Trump’s urging, she announced that week she would run for reelection as state party chair.

Although Ward was expected to win easily, the race was seen as a test for Republicans’ future in Arizona — especially after she had sparred with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and overseen losses to both Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in November as well as a flight in party registrations.

Arizona’s political transformation began long before Biden was on the ballot

At a Phoenix church on Saturday, hundreds gathered for a chaotic party meeting where many were not wearing masks, The Post reported. A majority of members voted to censure Ducey, Flake and Cindy McCain, all of whom had previously broken with Trump.

Ward presented her candidacy as the only option to keep the Arizona GOP from going “back to the dark days before Trump,” adding: “The president is watching today’s race very closely.”

She narrowly won reelection, beating Arellano in a runoff by a margin of 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent. But after the stated winner of another race was later told she had lost, party members began to raise questions about the election process.

Arellano said Sandra Dowling, who had run for an at-large committee member seat from the state’s 8th Congressional District, was initially announced as the winner of her election during the convention.

“I start getting phone calls from everybody and their neighbor saying ‘Congratulations, Sandra, you won, you won, you won,’ ” Dowling recalled to the Republic, only to note that the victory was pulled back hours later. Ward later blamed the mix-up on “human error,” the newspaper reported.

Following that news, Arellano was flooded with calls through the weekend from other state party members encouraging him to ask for a recount of all races. He said the party’s bylaws allow only candidates for chair to file such a request. He added that another race resulting in a three-way tie has gone unresolved.

Ward appoints a group tasked with counting ballots, Arellano said, although he was able to send an observer to watch the count. Given that she emphasized election integrity in her reelection campaign, he said an audit is a chance for Ward to prove that such an idea is being put into practice.

“So, I have no doubt that everything will be as advertised,” he said. “Right?”

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon