Florida Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Republican Party of Florida suspended Ziegler and demanded his resignation during an emergency meeting Sunday, Dec. 17, adding to calls by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other top officials for him to step down as police investigate a rape accusation against him. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Editor’s note: This story updates a previous one that ran before the vote was taken.

The Republican Party of Florida ousted Chairman Christian Ziegler in a special vote on Monday as police investigate a rape accusation against him — a move that came a week before Gov. Ron DeSantis competes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

A majority of about 200 members approved the ouster in a voice vote during a closed-door meeting that Ziegler did not attend, according to Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, who was there. He said no one spoke in favor of Ziegler. Evan Power, the vice chair of the state GOP, was chosen to replace Ziegler.

The party suspended Ziegler last month and demanded his resignation, saying he can’t effectively lead during a critical election year with the allegations, which Ziegler denies, swirling around him. DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and other Republican leaders had called on Ziegler to step down, but he refused.

DeSantis is seeking the GOP nomination for president, but ahead of the Jan. 15 Iowa caucus he trails far behind former President Donald Trump, who also is a Floridian. Scott is running for reelection. Florida also will play a key role in determining control of the U.S. House.

“We have to move past this and have to focus on 2024,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, who preceded Ziegler as party chair. “Florida’s one of the most important states for the Republicans and we have to continue to bring home victories, especially for Rick Scott and the top of the ticket with Trump as our nominee, eventually.”

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Talking to reporters while the meeting was ongoing, Ingoglia, a former chair of the state GOP, said he believed the scandal had harmed the state party, particularly among small donors, and that it needed to return to focusing on grassroots campaigning and fundraising.

“Anytime you have a scandal, it’s going to affect fundraising,” Ingoglia said.

Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, have admitted to police that they previously had a consensual sexual relationship with Christian Ziegler’s accuser. Bridget Ziegler is an elected member of the Sarasota School Board and co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a national conservative activist group that has successfully gotten members elected to school boards across the U.S. She has not been accused of a crime.

Bridget Ziegler also was appointed by DeSantis last year to the board of the governing district for Walt Disney World. DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature last year took control of the district in retaliation after Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by DeSantis.

The Sarasota Police Department is investigating the woman’s accusation that Ziegler raped her at her apartment in October. Police documents say the Zieglers and the woman had planned a sexual threesome that day, but Bridget Ziegler was unable to attend. The accuser says Christian Ziegler arrived anyway and assaulted her.

Christian Ziegler has not been charged with a crime and says he is innocent, contending the encounter was consensual.

Bridget Ziegler is not accused of any crime. The Sarasota School Board asked her to resign last month but she refused. DeSantis-appointed board members of the Disney World governing district made no direct mention of Bridget Ziegler’s situation at their meeting last month, even though it was raised by a member of the public who said her hypocrisy should disqualify her from serving.

The couple have been outspoken opponents of LGBTQ+ rights and their relationship with another woman has sparked criticism and accusations of hypocrisy.

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