WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to tap Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff could open the door for an Arizona official to move to the national stage.
Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham has frequently been cited as a possible successor to Priebus, but political observers have expressed doubts that he could successfully challenge the popular incumbent chairman. With Priebus moving to a role in the Trump White House, however, it appears to clear the way for a Graham bid.
Graham’s office did not return repeated calls seeking comment on his plans since the election. But while one political observer said Graham “certainly doesn’t start as the favorite” against Trump loyalists who have been mentioned as candidates for the national committee, others said Graham’s record of success in the state would make him a viable candidate.
“His record speaks for itself and that’s why so many people have been encouraging Robert to run,” said Mike Noble, a political consultant in Arizona. “He’s built many inroads in the Native American community and he kept the Arizona Republican Party stable through a very challenging time.”
Noble cited Graham’s ability to balance the sometimes conflicting opinions of moderate and conservative Republicans in the state party, “as well as juggling Trump” and Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of whom said they would not vote for Trump.
Graham also scheduled regular conference calls with all Republican campaigns in the state “so everyone can get on the same page,” Noble said.
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“Republicans are not normally as much of team players as Democrats, for better or for worse, but Robert has brought all parties together and he’s making it work,” he said.
Rose expressed concern about Graham’s ability to raise funds on a national scale, but said he would support a Graham bid for the national chairmanship.
“Graham has delivered Arizona red and he’s a good, solid, conservative guy who is well-liked,” Rose said.
But several Trump loyalists are also in the mix for the national chairmanship, according to published reports that have indicated Trump might tap his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, or Michigan GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, the niece of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Rose noted that Graham supported Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in the GOP primary, which Noble conceded “could be a hindrance.” But he added that Graham “obviously supported Trump in Arizona” in the general election.
The national party hasn’t had a chairman from Arizona in almost 40 years and Noble said the party could use Graham’s “ability to build bridges with all,” especially Hispanic and Native American voters.
“Most Republicans don’t bother to build those inroads because they assume that Native Americans are all just going to vote Democrat but they do have a lot of shared values with us,” he said. “But Robert has been exceptional at reaching out, meeting with tribal elders and bridging that gap.”
The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will vote for a new chairman in January, but no date has been set for that meeting yet.
“It’s going to be an uphill climb,” Noble said. “But how cool would that be to have one of our guys and to have it be a fresh face and a rising star within the party.”