Harmeet Dhillon said she is concerned that “crony capitalism” has infected the Republican National Committee and is sapping the energy and innovation the party needs to win elections in 2024.
Ms. Dhillon, who hopes to unseat RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel when the committee meets in California this week, said she would lead a full audit to find out who was hired and why to prepare for a shake-up after several disappointing election cycles.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Ms. Dhillon said the RNC needs to take a more proactive approach to promote early voting and ballot harvesting. Her plan breaks with former President Donald Trump, who has said voting before Election Day invites fraud.
“Our focus must shift from persuading voters on Election Day to chasing ballots as early as possible,” Ms. Dhillon said. She called it “crazy” to insist that voters wait until Election Day to cast their ballots in person.
Ms. Dhillon said it was a mistake for Republicans not to do more to bank early votes.
“President Trump has his opinion on this, but the leader of the RNC, his job is to do what’s best for all Republicans,” she said.
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Some analysts blamed Mr. Trump’s opposition to early voting for the party’s struggles in 2020 and 2022. Democrats pushed voters to cast ballots early, giving them an easier Election Day task than Republicans, who had only a few hours to motivate their base en masse.
The Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performances in elections exposed fault lines in the party that fueled an ugly fight over Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s quest to become House speaker. It now looms large over the RNC race.
“The fact is, we must make a change,” Ms. Dhillon told The Times. “What I’ve been sitting here and seeing for six years is our party consistently losing, and so staying the course means staying a course that has us losing elections.”
She said a greater emphasis on finances, elections and messaging would help restore confidence in the national party.
Ms. McDaniel, a niece of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, is seeking an unprecedented fourth term as chair. She was tapped by Mr. Trump in 2017 after serving as chair of the Michigan Republican Party and helping put her state in the Republican column in 2016 for the first time in a presidential race since the 1980s.
Mr. Trump has stayed neutral in the current race for RNC chair, though Ms. Dhillon said many people involved with his campaign have vouched for Ms. McDaniel.
Ms. McDaniel has raised $1.5 billion for the RNC during her tenure as chairwoman.
Ms. Dhillon said the RNC needs to be more transparent about how the money has been spent. She told The Times that an audit would show whether the party is getting its money’s worth from a “couple of dozen” consulting firms that the RNC has used in recent years.
“The lack of change suggests to me a form of crony capitalism. That is, people are hiring their friends and not being critical about them and not holding them to benchmarks,” she said.
She said some limited liability corporation outfits are walking away with tens of millions of dollars in contracts. “I suspect we’re going to find there’s overlap between the owners of those corporations and other vendors,” she said.
Ms. McDaniel’s allies point out that Ms. Dhillon pulled in $1.3 million as a party consultant in recent years.
Ms. McDaniel remains the heavy favorite to win. After November’s elections, she counted more than 100 members of the 168-member RNC backing her bid.
RNC members are scheduled to vote in a secret ballot Friday at a luxury resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point, California. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump’s stolen election claims, is also running for RNC chair.
Ms. McDaniel has blamed the Republican Party’s electoral setbacks on untested candidates and shoddy advice from consultants in key contests, including races for governor and for the Senate in Arizona.
One of those consultants, Caroline Wren — a veteran Republican Party fundraiser known for her combative style who served as an adviser for the failed gubernatorial bid of Kari Lake — is now fighting to elect Ms. Dhillon.
Ms. Wren told The Times that Ms. McDaniel has been shedding support while Ms. Dhillon has landed high-profile endorsements from Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham and onetime Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Ms. Dhillon also has the support of major Republican donors such as Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and Richard Uihlein, co-founder of the shipping supplies giant Uline.
“The grassroots are vehemently behind Harmeet Dhillon,” Ms. Wren said.
Ms. Dhillon refused to say how deep her support runs. Her website shows that she has sewn up the support of 28 RNC members, though she says others are privately in her camp but not willing to go public for fear of retribution.
“My realistic vote count goes up on a daily basis,” she said.