DANA POINT, Calif. — The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will vote Friday morning in California on their next party chair, choosing between handing their current leader, Ronna McDaniel, a fourth term or turning her position over to hard-line challengers who say new blood is needed after three disappointing national elections.
The choice between Ms. McDaniel and her challengers, Harmeet Dhillon, a conservative lawyer, and Mike Lindell, the conspiracy-theory-minded chief executive of MyPillow, is complicated. Some committee members say that Ms. McDaniel is too identified with the man who put her in power in 2017, Donald J. Trump, and that they need new leadership ahead of what could be a wide-open presidential primary in 2024.
But Ms. Dhillon, who was a leader of the election-denying group Lawyers for Trump in 2020, and Mr. Lindell, who continues to spin out fanciful conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, have hardly campaigned as agents to move the party beyond Mr. Trump. That was underscored this week at the committee’s gathering in Dana Point, Calif., where Ms. Dhillon promised to give Mr. Lindell a senior role if she won the vote.
“I’ve offered to make sure that if I win, we include him in some way, not in the elections department, mind you, but in, like I said, marketing and communications,” she told reporters.
The contest had an unexpected twist on Thursday, when Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida waded into the fray, praising Ms. Dhillon and urging “new blood” at the committee. Both sides were quick to say that they did not consider Mr. DeSantis’s comments, made in an interview with the conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, an official endorsement. But the comments were notable, given Mr. Trump’s decision to publicly shy away from making an endorsement.
While Mr. Trump has stayed silent, some of his top campaign aides were spotted circulating Thursday at the event in a luxury seaside resort.
Ms. McDaniel, a practiced insider, remains favored in a contest for the votes of Republican insiders. She entered the race with the promised support of well over half of the delegates. But in a secret ballot, not all of those delegates will stay with her. “I’m absolutely sure that is the case,” said Morton Blackwell, a committee member from Virginia and a veteran Republican operative.
Ms. Dhillon’s campaign to rally conservative activists outside the national committee to pressure R.N.C. members has flooded those members with emails, texts and phone calls. For some, that has backfired, leaving them angry at Ms. Dhillon, especially at her accusations that Ms. McDaniel had bought them off with junkets and lavish spending.
Cindy Costa, a committee member from South Carolina, said, “It was a little disconcerting to me that Harmeet would start saying things that weren’t exactly the truth.”
For others, it has been effective. Beth Campbell, a committee member from Tennessee, recalled clearing out her emails one morning this week, only to find 50 more messages by lunchtime imploring her to vote against Ms. McDaniel.
“They all want change. They want to win, is the bottom line,” Ms. Campbell said. “That grass roots, they’re the ones that knock on doors. They work the polls, they put the time in on campaigns, and when we come up empty-handed, they’re just scratching their heads.”
Lisa Lerer reported from Dana Point, Calif., and Jonathan Weisman from Chicago.