At a gathering of Republican Party bosses from across the nation on Wednesday, a seat was missing: Michigan, a critical battleground for the November election, did not have a reservation to the event.
Not that the chair would have been empty.
Two rivals — Kristina Karamo, an election-denying crusader who has led the state party as chair for almost a year, and Pete Hoekstra, a former longtime House member who was recently elected to replace her — have both staked a claim to the post.
The dispute has wreaked havoc on Republicans in the swing state, spilling over into court with less than a month until the party holds its presidential primary there.
It has also become a microcosm of the lingering tensions between the party’s far-right wing and its old guard, competing factions with often overlapping loyalties to former President Donald J. Trump. Ms. Karamo’s rise was fueled by her claims of fraud in the 2020 election, while Mr. Hoekstra served as Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands.
So when they converged at the Horseshoe Las Vegas for the R.N.C.’s winter meetings this week, neither got official recognition. Organizers relegated Ms. Karamo and Mr. Hoekstra to guest credentials, barring them from voting on party resolutions amid a continuing review of who is the rightful chair.
Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Hoekstra for the post on Friday, but that seems not to matter much to Ms. Karamo.
“The reality is I’m still legally the chair,” she said in radio appearance on Monday.
Lawyers for the R.N.C. reached a different conclusion last week, writing in a letter that it looked as if Ms. Karamo had been “properly removed” by a group of state committee members on Jan. 6. The R.N.C. later replaced her photo in an online gallery of state party leaders with a grayed-out avatar and the word “vacant.”
In a letter to R.N.C. members on Tuesday, and in the Monday radio spot, Ms. Karamo repeatedly lashed out at the national party and its leader, Ronna McDaniel, who is from Michigan. She accused the R.N.C. of “colluding” with a minority of members of the state committee. She compared the situation to a “country club.”
Ms. McDaniel declined to comment through a R.N.C. spokeswoman.
Ms. Karamo’s critics say that the Michigan party has been shrouded in secrecy under her leadership and is strapped for cash. Mr. Hoekstra said he had not been able to access the party’s financial records, which he described as being tightly controlled by Ms. Karamo. So have the party’s email account and website, he said, so he is having new ones developed.
He and Ms. Karamo did not interact at the Las Vegas meeting, he said.
“It’s a big space,” he said in an interview, away from the jangle of slot machines and the smoke-laden casino floor. He acknowledged that his guest credential had made him feel somewhat like an “outsider.”
Ms. Karamo, approached for comment, said she could not talk because she was on the phone and would circle back later. She did not.
She has argued that the move to replace her violates the state party’s bylaws and thwarts the will of its leaders who installed her last February, after a battle of attrition that took three rounds and several hours of voting.
The R.N.C. has so far stopped short of recognizing Mr. Hoekstra as the state party’s new chairman. But Mr. Hoekstra said on Wednesday that certification could come as early as next week.
In her subsequent bid for the party chair, she outlasted Matthew DePerno, another election-denying Trump acolyte who had also run unsuccessfully for statewide office in 2022. Mr. Trump had backed Mr. DePerno to be the chair.
Ms. Karamo promised that she would heal the party and return it to electoral success after two cycles of losses. The state seesawed from Mr. Trump in the 2016 election to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the 2020 election, and in the 2022 midterms, Democrats swept the state’s top offices and flipped the Legislature.
But by last fall, when the state party’s fabled gathering on Mackinac Island showcased its deficits — attendance plummeted, presidential candidates skipped the event, some speakers did not show — mutiny took hold.
Mr. Hoekstra said he was eating dinner on Friday night at the Trestle Stop, a restaurant in Hamilton, Mich., in the western part of the state, when the former president called him and asked if he wanted his endorsement.
“He says, ‘I know what’s going on in Michigan. You know, you’re my guy,’” Mr. Hoekstra said.
His hope is that if the R.N.C. certifies him as the state party chair, then Ms. Karamo will stand down.
“You would think at that point in time she would” seriously consider doing so, he said, “but that is her decision.”