Senate Republicans blew it last year in the midterms. Six months later, things are finally going their way.
The Senate GOP’s campaign arm got good news in recent weeks when two very conservative politicians eyeing a run for the upper chamber — Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano and Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson — both decided to forgo statewide campaigns. GOP strategists had worried that the two men would complicate their path to taking back the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-vote majority. Before then, the party landed a prized recruit in West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who hasn’t even announced yet whether he will seek reelection.
No one in the ranks thinks these developments alone will result in victories. But behind the scenes, top Republicans, led by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines, have been jubilant over the stretch they’ve had. And they expect the good vibes to keep rolling. Privately, there is a growing belief that they are close to landing even more top recruits in the critical swing states of Montana, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
“There’s good people nibbling on the hook,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “It’s just up to Daines to set that up.”
The developments have thrilled Republicans back in D.C., including many still smarting over the results of 2022, when Democrats not only held onto power in the Senate but expanded their majority. During that cycle, the NRSC took a hands-off approach to primaries, only to see ultra-MAGA nominees capture the nomination and lose in the general election.
This go-around, the committee has vowed to plunge into intraparty battles. And though it’s early, their thumb-on-the-scale maneuvering appears to be paying off.
“Every Republican in this business I’ve talked to about this is thrilled with the way this is all coming together, with the way the committee is managing things,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist who has served as an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “The reality is you take candidates like that off the board and they then can’t harm the narrative around candidates in other states or they can’t influence the national conversation about Republicans trying to take back the Senate.”
Senate Republicans began the 2024 cycle with a strong map featuring Democratic incumbents in the red states of West Virginia, Montana and Ohio.
But there has been a persistent fear that far-right candidates would once again muck things up. Mastriano, who lost a gubernatorial election in 2022 by 15 percentage points, was arguably the GOP’s biggest concern in the country. His support of a no-exceptions abortion ban, along with his appearance at the Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6 attack and his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, turned off independents, swing voters and even many Republicans last year.
Worries of Mastriano running again were so pronounced that Trump made clear to Republicans in private conversations that he didn’t want to share a ticket with him in November. Trump told Republicans that he would be unlikely to endorse Mastriano as a result, a turnaround from 2022, when the former president backed him in the primary.
Republicans are alarmed about a Mastriano for Senate bid. Even Trump.
Asked for comment for this story, Mastriano said that he’s had many discussions with Trump and his advisers and they “never shared those ‘concerns’ with me. Because he’s never said it.”
Party operatives were also anxious about Davidson, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who they thought would struggle to win over moderate voters in the fall.
Davidson would have had the backing of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that hinted it would spend large sums of money on his behalf. Instead, the Ohio GOP field seems poised to feature two wealthy businessmen — Bernie Moreno and Matt Dolan — and, it appears, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. The NRSC doesn’t have a favorite as of now, with officials signaling that they are comfortable with the field.
In an interview, Davidson said he would have outlined sharp contrasts with establishment Republicans had he entered the race but felt that running for Senate would detract from his work in the House. “That’s one of the laments,” he said. “I think it’s important to have those kinds of races and draw the contrast. I would have loved to draw the contrast.”
For his part, Daines, the NRSC chair, said that he respected the decisions made by Mastriano and Davidson and felt good about the committee’s recruiting efforts.
“He had a very tough race in ’22,” Daines said of Mastriano. “And I think he looked at all the different factors and I think he made the right decision to stay in the state Senate seat.”
But it isn’t just the fact that Mastriano and Davidson bowed out of running that has Republicans feeling upbeat. Their recruiters also feel close to nabbing some of their preferred picks in other key states.
In Montana, that candidate is Tim Sheehy, a decorated Navy SEAL who now runs an aerial firefighting company. He is mulling a run against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and recently sounded like a candidate when he whacked Tester over his lack of response to a Montana military base hosting a “Drag Queen Story Hour.”
In Pennsylvania, the NRSC is courting Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO and combat veteran, to take on Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). According to people close to McCormick, he remains undecided on a run. But he’s been making moves customary of a candidate-in-waiting. He has kicked off a book tour, hired staff for a new PAC that helps candidates in the state and appeared at numerous GOP events in Pennsylvania.
“The only candidate being talked about in Pennsylvania that can give Bob Casey a race is Dave McCormick,” said Christopher Nicholas, a GOP consultant based in the state. “So when Sen. Mastriano decided not to run, that was Christmas early.”
In Nevada, national Republicans are recruiting Sam Brown, a former Army captain who came in second place in a GOP Senate primary last year. A Republican strategist close to Brown said that he is considering a run and is “far along” in his decision-making process. Brown has been meeting with donors, elected officials and party activists as he mulls a campaign.
And in Wisconsin, recruiters are eager to lure GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher to run against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. As part of their pitch, the NRSC conducted polling that showed Gallagher trailing Baldwin by just 1 percentage point. A person close to Gallagher said the congressman is listening to those urging him to run, but is currently focused on his work leading the Select Committee on China.
Republicans press Wisconsin congressman to take on Tammy Baldwin
“It’s not exactly trigonometry,” said John Ashbrook, a Republican consultant and McConnell alumnus. “Better candidates give Republicans a better shot at the majority, and if the current trend holds we have a clear road all the way to victory.”
Republicans still face the possibility of far-right candidates capturing their party’s nomination in several important battleground states. In Nevada, Jim Marchant, a Trump supporter who falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen and lost a secretary of state race last year, has thrown his hat in the ring for the party’s Senate nomination. In Pennsylvania, Mastriano has hinted in the past that someone else from his wing of the party may run, though it’s unclear who that could be.
In Arizona, an aide to Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor who is a staunch defender of Trump’s, has said he is “99 percent sure” she will run for the Senate in 2024. Though the NRSC hasn’t taken a public position in that race and has met with her, many GOP strategists in the state fear that Lake, who narrowly lost the gubernatorial election last year to a Democrat widely considered to be a weak candidate, would doom their chances.
Even with preferred candidates having declared or nearing a run and more conservative ones having opted out, Republicans still are already beginning to face rocky primaries in states such as West Virginia and Ohio. And those favored candidates also have some liabilities that could plague them in the general election.
The Department of Justice this week sued Justice’s coal empire for failing to pay millions in penalties. The Justice campaign said the feds “decided to play politics.” McCormick lauded China’s economic growth in the past and his hedge fund raised huge sums in investments for the country. (He has since taken a more hardline approach toward China.) Several Republicans have also taken anti-abortion positions that hurt GOP candidates last year.
Democrats, meanwhile, have a crop of battle-tested senators who have repeatedly outperformed other candidates in their party, such as Casey, Brown and Tester.
“Senate Republicans have three brewing problems: Their potential candidates bring disqualifying vulnerabilities in a general election, they’re facing ongoing pressures from their MAGA base, and in many states they’re already engaged in vicious intraparty fights,” said said David Bergstein, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “All of these dynamics will lead their ultimate nominees to defeat in 2024.”
Privately, the joy national Republicans have taken with recent developments is often tempered with a note of caution.
“The ball is bouncing the NRSC’s way right now. It didn’t really happen last cycle, so it’s refreshing,” said a former GOP Senate campaign manager in 2022 who was granted anonymity to speak frankly. But, the person cautioned, “I wouldn’t spike the football yet. … The best thing the NRSC can continue to do is make sure that the campaigns are running good races and raising money because at some point when these primaries in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia turn real, it’s going to get rocky.”
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )