Republicans are voicing concerns that a number of failed GOP midterm candidates aligned with former President Trump could cost them key Senate races next year.
Former GOP Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant, who has been tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory and refused to concede his loss last year, has thrown his hat into the ring for Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Nev.) seat. Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who also refused to concede her loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), has strongly hinted that she is considering a run for the state’s Senate seat.
A few others that have stirred controversy are also considering Senate bids in critical states like Wisconsin and Montana, leading some Republicans to warn that they could prove to be a liability as the party looks to flip the upper chamber.
“Certainly, one thing some of these MAGA and more far-right candidates have in common is they are a glutton for punishment, and they don’t mind being humiliated at the ballot box,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist.
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Marson said Lake should have won the state’s governor’s race last year but turned off voters by backing claims of voter fraud. He said the same pattern happened throughout much of the country, with many candidates echoing similar allegations losing in competitive races that ultimately determined control of Congress and governor’s mansions.
Last year, Republicans had hoped to make significant gains in Congress, encouraged by the fact that the president’s party historically loses seats in both chambers during the midterm elections. But Republican candidates, some of whom tied themselves closely to Trump and advocated for his false claims of the 2020 presidential election being stolen, lost.
The GOP only narrowly won control of the House and failed to win a majority in the Senate. Trump shouldered some blame for the party’s performance following the November general election for endorsing candidates in the primaries who were seen by observers and strategists as more loyal to him but potentially less viable in a general election.
In the aftermath of the party’s disappointing performance, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said last month that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would take a more active role in recruiting candidates and be more selective in providing support.
Daines has also said he wanted to get “on the same page” with Trump about endorsements and has endorsed Trump for the presidency in 2024. But as Trump’s legal woes mount — the former president was hit with another federal indictment Tuesday over his alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 efforts to overturn the election — the former president could once again prove to be a political burden for Republican Senate leaders.
Zachary Moyle, a former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party and a strategist, said the GOP has had this challenge in previous years, pointing to the 2010 midterms in which more conservative Tea Party candidates were able to win the GOP nomination and advance to the general election.
Kari Lake addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 24, 2023.
Moyle mentioned the Delaware special Senate election that year in which Republican Christine O’Donnell upset then-Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) for the GOP nomination. Castle was a longtime representative and former governor who was favored to win the Senate seat, but O’Donnell, a conservative activist, received enthusiastic Tea Party backing to win the nomination.
Ultimately, O’Donnell was easily defeated by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Democrats narrowly held control of the Senate despite losing half a dozen seats.
“This isn’t the first time that a problem like this existed. Historically, there’s been different versions of it at different times. You spend the primary running all the way to the right, then spend the general trying to come back to the middle. It’s a tough thing to do,” Moyle said.
He added that the Republican Party needs to focus on issues that “matter to voters directly.” He said focusing on “Trumpian” aspects like the 2020 election doesn’t help in a general election, leaving too many voters “on the sidelines.”
The 2024 Senate map easily favors Republicans overs Democrats. Three Democratic senators are running for reelection in conservative-leaning states, and several more are running in swing states. Meanwhile, no Republican senator is up for reelection in a state that voted Democratic during either of the past two presidential elections.
Still, some Republicans believe the party should be taking action to support candidates they see as more electable by the general public.
Daines has thrown his support behind West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) in the GOP primary over Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), as Republicans look to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who still has yet to announce whether he’s running for reelection. Polls have shown Justice leading Manchin by a significant margin in a hypothetical match-up, while Manchin and Mooney are seen as neck and neck.
Daines has also signaled support for businessman Tim Sheehy to become the GOP nominee to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who lost to Tester during the 2018 election, is weighing a run of his own.
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) arrives for a press conference with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 to discuss the FY 2024 appropriations process.
Rosendale was notably one of a handful of House conservatives who pushed back against the bill that Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed upon earlier this year to raise the debt limit and avoid a default.
Brandon Scholz, a Wisconsin-based Republican strategist, emphasized that the campaign season is still early and throwing names around is “exciting,” but candidates eventually need to decide if they are seriously going to run and what type of campaign they want to run.
Another one of the most closely watched Senate races next year will take place in the Badger State, where Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) is up for reelection. On Tuesday, Rep. Tom Tiffany (R) said he wouldn’t run for the seat, making him the second House Republican after Rep. Mike Gallagher (R) to bow out. Among those still seen as a potential GOP candidate in the race is former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has backed Trump’s election fraud claims.
Scholz said he believes Trump will hurt Republicans for a long time, and Democrats need the former president to remain involved in politics to help them. He added that Trump should be blamed for Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers defeating Republican nominee Tim Michels last year by a few points in a race he said Evers should have lost.
In that race, Trump endorsed Michels over the more establishment candidate, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
“He will continue to soil the Republican Party and in doing so he will continue to be the one to be blamed for a lot of the losses,” Scholz said.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 to introduce the Equality Act.
That same year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) won reelection over Democrat Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin.
Other Republicans argue the Trump-aligned candidates might have a better chance at victory than what some in the party are saying.
Brady Smith, a GOP consultant who served as the chief political strategist for the last two months of Lake’s 2022 campaign, said these candidates are in “strong positions” to win their primary races. He said he thinks Lake “certainly” would be able to win the Senate race in Arizona if she decides to run.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) has declared his candidacy for the seat, running to the left of incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected as a Democrat but has left the party and become an Independent. Sinema has not said whether she will run for reelection.
“Obviously, a three-way race is even better, but Kari Lake would win a two-way race. The enthusiasm’s still behind her, especially in the Republican base undoubtedly,” Smith said, adding that he expects she will be able to “juxtapose” herself against a “radical” like Gallego.
He said Arizona has consistently elected candidates running in a more moderate lane like Sen. Mark Kelly (D) and Hobbs, but Gallego’s voting record shows he is not moderate.
“There’s definitely a shift in this country. And Republicans simply have better ideas and better ideas to improve the economy for families,” Smith argued. “They’re able to stick to the kitchen table issues more.”