McDaniel said Wednesday that he «heartily condemns[s] religious fanaticism in any form”.

“We are the party of faith, family and freedom, and these attacks have no place in our party or in our politics,” McDaniel said in a statement to POLITICO. “As a member of a minority religion, I would never tolerate such attacks. I have promised to run a positive campaign and will continue to do so.»

McDaniel is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As president of the NCR, McDaniel has promoted coalition building with various minority groups, both ethnic and religious.

Dhillon’s focus on faith doesn’t just come from people who support McDaniel. In an email sent to an RNC member on Sunday, an alleged supporter of “MyPillow” CEO Mike Lindell, who is also running for committee chair, cited Dhillon’s religion as an issue. The copy of the email, which was provided to POLITICO with the sender’s name redacted, urged the recipient to support Lindell, an «ardent Christian conservative.»

“She is an Indian Sikh by birth and heritage, not of the Judeo-Christian worldview,” the email about Dhillon wrote. «None of these central character positions align with the GOP Platform, the planks, or conservatism in general.»

Reached for comment, Lindell told POLITICO to «push it.»

In a statement to POLITICO, Dhillon called it “painful to learn that a handful of NCR members, in a close race for the NCR presidency, have chosen to question my fitness to lead the NCR by weaponizing my devout Sikh faith in against me ”

“[T]your intolerance is not part of the decisions of the majority of the RNC members, and it will not deter me from doing what is right for our country and for our party that we love and are committed to serving,” added Dhillon.

The rumor mill adds another layer of tension to an increasingly acrimonious race in the RNC between McDaniel, Trump’s 2017 pick for president, and Dhillon, whose firm represents the former president in lawsuits related to the 2020 election. McDaniel is competing. for a fourth term in office and is defending himself against accusations that the party has stumbled under his leadership. Although she remains the favorite to win, he has seen notable defections among Republicans in southern states.

In Arkansas last weekend, the state executive committee passed a resolution in support of Dhillon’s candidacy, two people familiar with the vote said, but state party officials have so far delayed releasing the document or details. related to voting. The central committee of the Louisiana Republican Party passed a resolution Saturday urging its three voting members to “heed the deep and extreme dissatisfaction of the ‘grassroots’ with the RNC and Speaker McDaniel” and vote to replace her.

An upcoming vote of no confidence is also scheduled in Florida, following similar votes against McDaniel in Arizona Y Texas. And members of the Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee voted last month to overwhelmingly voice their opposition to McDaniel’s continued leadership, according to a state party official.

On Saturday, Alabama Republican Party leaders voted to release a statement saying they «cannot support or endorse Ronna McDaniel for RNC president.» The vote of no confidence, while not unanimous, was successful despite recent rumors in conservative political circles about Dhillon’s Sikh faith.

Chris Horn, a Republican commentator in the state and president of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club of Alabama, is not on the steering committee but has openly supported McDaniel’s re-election. While he acknowledged that Dhillon has a right to practice his faith, he defended Republicans seeking information about Dhillon’s religious beliefs. He said he is concerned that Dhillon would eliminate existing RNC programs targeting Protestant, Catholic and Jewish voters, something Dhillon has not proposed to do.

“People are not fans because they ask questions,” Horn said. “That is a legitimate question: Is the Republican Party, or even the Democratic Party, ready for someone of the Sikh faith?

“If someone from another faith wants to be the leader of our party, then you will be the leader of tens of millions of Christians. And there hasn’t been any conversation about that at all,» Horn added. «That’s just the fact of the matter.»

A Midwest RNC member who supports Dhillon, who was granted anonymity to minimize rising tensions within the committee, said during a phone conversation last week that another member who is involved in outreach efforts for the faith of the NCR reported being «concerned about the future of some of the faith commitment in the NCR due to Harmeet’s Sikh faith.»

The Midwest member, who found the comment «incredibly disturbing,» said the phone call was originally unrelated to the president’s race and was not part of an effort to win votes, but that the other member ultimately brought up the faith of Dhillon spontaneously.

Dhillon has not shied away from his religion. He made a high-profile appearance at the 2016 Republican convention during which he she delivered a sikh prayer, and has framed itself as the vanguard of a more inclusive Republican Party. A prominent San Francisco attorney, she has also highlighted her work on religious liberty cases that benefit conservative Christians, such as successfully challenging California’s pandemic rules banning church gatherings.

His supporters denounced what they called attacks on a woman whose Sikh immigrant family sought a better life in the United States after leaving India.

“The last thing I want is for someone to be attacked for their faith,” said Solomon Yue, an Oregon NCR committee member whose Christian family fled communist China in 1980. “And now my own party, a member of the RNC, you have attacked an Asian-American running for president of the RNC. This is totally unacceptable in my book. If anyone still believes in freedom and First Amendment rights, they need to stand up and talk about this and stop it.»

Yue is one of the few Dhillon supporters to speak publicly on the issue. Some members who were upset by reports that Dhillon’s faith was being scrutinized worried that the rumor mill’s surfacing would portray the Republican Party as bigoted.

While McDaniel has boasted the support of an overwhelming majority of the NCR’s 168 members, publishing a letter in December signed by 107 backing members, Dhillon’s allies say McDaniel’s support has waned.

McDaniel, Dhillon and possibly Lindell will participate in two candidate forums in Dana Point, California, next week before the leadership election, though the events are open only to RNC members and their proxies.