- The National Republican Senatorial Committee is seeking to recruit established candidates over populists for Senate races in 2024, according to comments from GOP strategists and commentators to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- Republicans failed to make expected Senate gains in 2022’s midterm elections after novice GOP candidates lost critical races.
- “[We must be] nominating candidates who can win … Senate seats are too important to throw away,” said Peter Roff, a conservative commentator.
Republicans are looking to recruit moderate and experienced candidates for Senate races in 2024 to avoid a repeat of losses in the 2022 midterms, GOP campaign experts and conservative commentators told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the GOP’s campaign arm responsible for Senate elections, is looking to place moderate nominees with elected experience in competitive races, experts told the DCNF. An emphasis on electability offered by experienced candidates, they said, is essential to winning — unlike novice candidates subscribing to former President Donald Trump’s brand of populism. (RELATED: In Blow To GOP, Rep. Mike Gallagher Decides Against Senate Run)
In the 2022 midterm elections, Trump’s endorsement helped several populist candidates in Arizona, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Georgia win primary races over moderate candidates. All of them went on to lose their elections, which observers ascribed to their Trump-style views that were unpalatable to general election voters, with a “red wave” failing to materialize.
The concern has led to “electability” as being a top priority for candidates endorsed by the NRSC. A spokesperson for Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the NRSC’s chairman, told the DCNF that his “number one priority is recruiting candidates who can win a primary and a general election.”
“The good news for him is that the best candidates are likely to win the primary in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio,” said Mike McKenna, a former Trump administration official who was responsible for relations with Congress.
McKenna’s comment refers to Dave McCormick, a Pennsylvania Senate candidate in 2022 who is being courted to run for the Senate against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024. McCormick, who was touted by Daines as a candidate at the NRSC’s recent winter meeting per NBC, has previously lamented populism as leading to “political extremes” and has been called a “liberal” by Trump.
“He’s not MAGA, he’s not MAGA … I do know that he was with a company that managed money for communist China, and he is absolutely the candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment,” said Trump of McCormick at a rally for Oz in 2022.
In West Virginia, incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Justice is running to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and leads the GOP primary field by 41 points. Though an ally of Trump, Justice is a two-term governor with high name recognition, making him an established candidate with a record of winning elections.
Upon Justice’s announcement, Daines released a statement calling him a “proven winner.” By contrast, the Club for Growth — a limited-government advocacy group — has opposed Justice, with its president saying, “He would be in … the moderate camp. So we wouldn’t support him in the primary.”
In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose leads the current field in straw polling, which also includes Republican state Sen. Matt Dolan, Senate candidate in 2022, and Bernie Moreno, a businessman whom Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio has endorsed.
A recent poll by Causeway Solutions showed LaRose as leading the field with 24%. A person familiar with LaRose’s thinking told the DCNF that he has “strong conservative credentials and a large grassroots network across Ohio’s 88 counties.” Asked about Trump’s endorsement, the person said that LaRose did not commit to seeking it out in 2024, saying “[Endorsements] are not what this race hangs on … You don’t have to hang your hat on what one person thinks about you.”
Recent announcements that Republican Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio and State Sen. Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania will not run for the Senate have helped clear the field for established candidates. GOP insiders had feared that they, both populists, were unelectable in general elections, per Politico.
“There are always people eager to stick it to the man to make a point. But elections aren’t about making a point; they’re about winning,” said Peter Roff, a conservative commentator, to the DCNF. “That means nominating candidates who can win … Senate seats are too important to throw away.”
Other states where incumbent Democrats will be running are Wisconsin, Montana and Arizona, with the NRSC courting candidates to unseat them. Those efforts were dealt a blow on Jun. 9 when Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin announced that he would not run for the Senate.
“It’s obviously disappointing, but it would have been political malpractice not to try to recruit Mike Gallagher. We will have a strong candidate in Wisconsin,” an NRSC spokesman told Roll Call.
In other states, Democratic Sen. John Tester of Montana and Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will be running for re-election. In Montana, Bridger Aerospace CEO Tim Sheehy announced his candidacy, with Daines saying he “could not be happier” that Sheehy was running, while Arizona Senate President pro tempore T.J. Shope has also publicly expressed interest in running.
Sheehy has since been endorsed by several top Republicans, such as Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, as well as Montana’s Gov. Greg Gianforte and Rep. Ryan Zinke, who had been seen as a potential candidate in the race.
However, unlike Gallagher, who was publicly and privately courted by the NRSC, no such efforts have yet been made by the committee to recruit candidates in Arizona. “No telling how … AZ [is] going to turn out. Nor is there any telling what the NRSC is going to do,” said McKenna, with primary elections for these races slated to happen in the summer of 2024.
Not everyone in the party, however, believes that rejecting insurgent candidates is the right strategy.
“[In 2022], candidates supported by Trump and the establishment both lost. It’s never a straight line. People often create narratives to explain things,” said a Republican strategist advising Moreno’s campaign to the DCNF, who requested to speak on background. “Ohio is one of the most populist conservative states in the country. Being associated with Trump is good and there’s no evidence to show that it’s a negative,” he added.
“The reality is that insurgents like J.D. Vance, who got to the Senate without establishment help, will always have to look outside the Beltway for support,” said Christian Whiton, a former Trump administration official. However, he admitted that anti-establishment candidates were detrimental to Republicans in 2022, noting “Trump’s support for oddball candidates in 2022 who lost in Pennsylvania and Georgia and left Democrats in control of the Senate.”
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