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Endorsement controversy leads to leadership shakeup for county Republicans

Former San Diego GOP chair Paula Whitsell is shown sitting in her office. Feb. 9, 2024. Chula Vista, Calif.
Carlos Castillo
Former San Diego GOP chair Paula Whitsell is shown sitting in her office. Feb. 9, 2024. Chula Vista, Calif.

Amid a controversial effort to switch the San Diego County Republican Party's endorsement from one candidate to another, Paula Whitsell is out as party chair Tuesday and Corey Gustafson is in.

The county GOP initially endorsed Andrew Hayes in the 75th Assembly District race over polarizing fellow Republican Carl DeMaio. Following the primary, in which the two Republicans handily beat Democratic challengers Kevin Juza and Christie Dougherty, Whitsell attempted to switch the party's endorsement to DeMaio — who won the primary by 24 points.

The fairly unprecedented move led to her ouster, and prompted the Republican Party to reaffirm its endorsement of Hayes. Whitsell has not commented on the matter, but has changed her social media pages to reflect that she is "past" chair of the party.


"Andrew Hayes is the Republican Party of San Diego County's only official endorsed candidate for state Assembly because he will stand for Republican values," newly appointed chair Gustafson said Tuesday.

"I am proud to be the party's endorsed candidate," Hayes said. "I'm glad the Republican Party of San Diego County has reaffirmed and recommitted this endorsement for the General Election."

According to the county GOP, on June 12, 2023, the Central Committee of the Republican Party of San Diego County conducted an endorsement meeting where Andrew Hayes received more than two-thirds of the vote, thereby granting him the endorsement.

The Central Committee on Tuesday reaffirmed and clarified that the endorsement lasts through the 2023-24 election cycle, culminating in the Nov. 5, 2024 general election.

Hayes and DeMaio are running for the open 75th Assembly District seat, previously held by termed-out Assemblymember Marie Waldron. The district, representing East County and inland North County San Diego, is one of the most Republican-heavy legislative districts in California, with an 11-point registration advantage for the GOP.


Whitsell succeeded Tony Krvaric as Republican Party chair in 2020, following a wave of controversy stemming from a video — allegedly of Krvaric from the early 1990s — that features him with an image of Adolf Hitler.

Krvaric subsequently disavowed the video as a smear attempt.