Mar 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Senate GOP's 2024 landmines

Clockwise from top left: Rep. Matt Rosendale (R.-Mont.), Kari Lake, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Doug Mastriano. Photos: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket, Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, William Campbell and Michael M. Santiago

Senate Republicans have been gifted a historically favorable map for 2024, but they are again facing the risk of problematic candidates emerging in must-win races.

Why it matters: Newly minted National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Steve Daines has taken an active role in recruiting strong candidates to run in battleground races — in contrast to his hands-off predecessor, Rick Scott.

  • That strategy is already paying dividends, with popular West Virginia GOP Gov. Jim Justice likely to announce his run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the coming weeks, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
  • Daines is also close to landing a Montana Senate recruit with a golden resume. Tim Sheehy is a 37-year-old Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient who founded two successful businesses and would be able to self-finance a campaign.

Yes, but: Just three months into the year, there are already five critical Senate races — held by Democrats or independents — in which primary headaches are looming.

In Montana, potential Senate candidate Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) posed with a neo-Nazi group while walking between congressional hearings this month. He later apologized for not recognizing the group's affiliation.

  • Rosendale, one of the final holdouts against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, is closely allied with the deep-pocketed Club for Growth.

In Ohio, Club for Growth president David McIntosh has urged Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) to run for Senate against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

In Pennsylvania, far-right 2022 gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano is exploring a possible run for Senate against Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

  • Daines encouraged former hedge fund executive David McCormick to run at last month's NRSC retreat and later publicly slammed Mastriano as unelectable: "We need somebody who can win a primary and a general election. His last race demonstrated he can’t win a general," Daines told HuffPost.

In Arizona, Kari Lake is seriously considering a Senate campaign against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Democrat Ruben Gallego after losing her 2022 governor's race.

  • Lake was the featured dinner speaker at CPAC, where she was enthusiastically greeted (and won the VP straw poll). She continues to deny that she lost her election and that Trump lost in 2020.

And in West Virginia, if Justice runs against Manchin, he would still face a competitive primary against Freedom Caucus member Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.).

  • Trump endorsed Mooney for the House last year but also has a good relationship with Justice.

Between the lines: Many of the candidates that GOP leaders are alarmed over have ties to the Club for Growth, including Mooney, Rosendale and Davidson.

  • Trump, who is feuding with the conservative group, is unlikely to get behind many Club-endorsed candidates (with the notable exception of Indiana's Jim Banks, whom he endorsed).
  • Trump is annoyed at Rosendale, in particular, for refusing to take his call during the contentious vote for House speaker, according to several sources. The photo of Rosendale rebuffing the former president's phone call quickly went viral.
  • But he's a top ally of Kari Lake, floating her as a potential running mate in 2024. And he endorsed Mastriano in 2022 while railing against McCormick at a pre-primary rally.

What they're saying: One Trump confidant said the former president's endorsement strategy will be different than in 2022. He's not likely to make as many endorsements and is expected to only support those who are backing his presidential campaign.

The bottom line: Daines' decision to play a more active role in shaping these GOP fields couldn't come at a more urgent time.

  • But he's still facing the unenviable challenge of convincing Republicans to nominate the most electable candidates, when the mood of the GOP base is squarely behind the most intemperate right-wing voices.
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