Florida Republicans vote on removing party chairman accused of rape as DeSantis pins hopes on Iowa

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican Party of Florida is scheduled to hold a special meeting Monday to vote on removing Chairman Christian Ziegler and select a new leader as police investigate a rape accusation against him, a vote that comes the week before Gov. Ron DeSantis competes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

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. Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and other Republican leaders have called on Ziegler to step down, but he has 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 re-election. 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. 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,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, who preceded Ziegler as party chair.

The meeting is expected to be held behind closed doors at a Tallahassee conference center.

Beyond the rape accusation, there is another troublesome element for the party. Under DeSantis, Florida has stripped rights away from LGBTQ+ Floridians and banned instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Ziegler and his wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, have admitted to police that they previously had a consensual sexual relationship with Christian Ziegler’s accuser.

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, an elected member of the Sarasota School Board, is not accused of any crime. The board voted to ask her to resign last month but she refused.

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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